Fox’s Game Can Be the Inspiration DSJ Needs

It seems like a lost art in today’s NBA, a role that is among the endangered species along with post-up centers and defensive specialists.

But this one might be the most troubling to coaches and to the NBA as it attempts to take back it’s game with more focus on the development level.

It is the floor general. The playmaking point guard. The catalyst of an offense.

You just don’t see those anymore. The international game doesn’t promote that kind of style — usually the game runs through the forwards and big men — and the AAU game encourages fast guards to look to score first and pass out of their dribble drives, born from the Allen Iverson mold some 20 years ago.

Then you feast your eyes on De’Aaron Fox on Saturday afternoon and there’s hope that he can bring back the value of the floor general, the playmaking point guard and the catalyst.

Fox (30 points, 8 assists) was everything for the Kings, especially when they looked sluggish due to the noon start — 9 a.m. for their body clocks — and David Fizdale sounded like he wanted to use it as a teaching point for his young point guards.

“His court presence,” Fizdale said. “He’s got that ‘true point guard’ presence. He knows how to get his guys shots and, at the same time, when to turn it on and get his own. For a young guy to have that kind of feel for the game, that’s pretty special.”

David Fizdale discusses the play of Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox and the Knicks' performance with the early start time.

The Knicks opened up a 27-12 lead early and Fox and the Kings bench started turning up the energy on defense. They managed to close within 7 after the first quarter and by halftime, the Kings led 48-46. Fox had 13 points at the half and then opened the third quarter by finding teammate Buddy Hield, who suddenly got hot. The Kings went on a 12-0 run to end the third and they had the Knicks down 80-68 going into the fourth.

Hield was having a terrible game (he started 2 for 12, 0 for 5 from three) and yet finished with 19 points thanks to a strong third quarter. Fox got him going and kept going to him.

“That’s what you ask for in a point guard,” Willie Cauley-Stein said of Fox’s all-around game. “I felt like he did what he was supposed to do.”

On the other side, there was Dennis Smith Jr., who has come up with Fox as rising stars from ninth grade through the AAU and summer camp circuit and into the NBA Draft. Late in the first quarter, Fizdale called a timeout when Fox seemed to take over the game. He reminded Smith that he was on his home court. Smith responded with a flourish of drives and a couple of threes to put up 11 points in the first quarter. But he did not score again until the second half.

Wally and Alan break down a skilled play from Dennis Smith Jr. and John Jenkins knocking down some threes in the Knicks game against the Kings at The Garden.

Smith finished with 18 points and 5 assists in 32:33, but struggled with his shooting. He was 4 for 12 in the first half and finished 7 for 19 in the game. He was 2 for 7 from three. His backcourt partner, Damyean Dotson, was 2 for 12, 0 for 4 from three. Also worth noting is how rookie Kevin Knox (3 for 12, 7 points) continues to be lost out there with Smith running the show.

Though they are the same age and from the same draft class, Fox is clearly ahead of Smith when it comes to development. Fox seems a little ahead of him when it comes to maturity and awareness. Smith has a quiet intensity about him, but seems to hide it with a too-cool-for-school front you typically see from someone who isn’t quite comfortable with showing vulnerability. It’s as if, right now, Fox has already taken full ownership of the Kings, while Smith isn’t quite ready to do the same with the Knicks. To be fair, it’s hard to be a leader when you are still trying to get your own game right.

“Dennis is a talent,” Fizdale said. “It’s just a matter of time as he starts to see the game more and get comfortable with his teammates, good things are going to keep happening for him.”

Fox struggled as a rookie but came back this season able to show off his incredible speed, seemingly tireless effort on defense, an excellent mid-range pull-up shooter who will make you pay if you go under the screen on a three and excellent awareness of his teammates. Hield could be a Most Improved Player candidate because of Fox’s presence.

Fizdale said Smith’s conditioning is “better,” his shot is “improving” and he’s “starting to learn how to get guys involved.”

Smith doesn’t need to look beyond Fox for inspiration of what he should try to become if he wants to reach his potential at the NBA level. The question is, can he?

NOTES

– While Fox was willing his team, desperate to stay in the playoff hunt in the West, to a much-needed win, Smith lost focus and had a selfish moment and a critical time. The Knicks rallied from a 12-point deficit in the fourth to take an 89-87 lead with 6:06 to go. The team’s battled back and forth as Smith and Fox exchanged scores and plays. Smith had just scored on a tough drive to bring the Knicks within two with 2:12 to go when Nemanja Bjelica bumped him as he landed. No foul was called and Smith pushed Bjelica and got in his face.

The two had to be separated and the officials opted to only call a technical foul on Smith. You can make a case that the right move would have been to hit both of them with the tech — Bjelica didn’t exactly walk away — but the more important point here is Smith showed a lack of focus and maturity in that moment.

Hield hit the technical free throw to make it a three-point game and Harrison Barnes made a jumper on the ensuing possession to open up the Kings lead to 99-94 with 1:50 left. The damage was done before the Knicks could even get the ball back.

“I know I don’t like it and I’m going to tell him,” Fizdale said after the game. “He was frustrated that he didn’t get the call. He thought the guy was under him. But we can’t get techs in that moment.”

Smith acknowledged he was wrong. “That could have changed the game,” he said, after he explained what happened. “He pushed me. It was a dead ball and he came up and pushed me. I retaliated, got us a tech. Shouldn’t have [done] it.”

Dennis Smith Jr. discusses why he received a technical foul, and how the morning start time may have affected the team's play against the Kings.

Mitchell Robinson (8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) continued his shot block streak (23 games) and also his streak of 2+ blocks (14), but with 3:08, Fizdale subbed him out for DeAndre Jordan which left many to wonder why. Fizdale explained that Robinson “was done. He was barely getting up and down the court.” Robinson had just had a layup blocked and Fizdale saw fatigue in his effort. Robinson played just 21:57. Jordan had 14 points, 15 rebounds and a block in 26:03.

Noah Vonleh was a late scratch with a contused right hip. He suffered it late in Wednesday’s game in Phoenix and, according to Fizdale, it was bothering Vonleh during their walk-through on Friday. By Saturday morning, it was limiting his mobility so the decision was made to sit him out. Fizdale said he hoped Vonleh would be available for the three-game road trip, which begins Sunday in Minnesota.

[Watch the Knicks Battle the Wolves Tonight at 7:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]

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