By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
In a draft full of potential NBA stars the Kentucky Wildcats' De’Aaron Fox is shining the brightest. And hopefully the 76ers' brass is taking notice.
It is virtually impossible to fully assess a player’s NBA future from one game’s performance, however their competitive grit can be judged in one game or a singular moment. Meaning a player’s mental toughness and heart are much more difficult to assess then their basketball skill set. In short, there aint no math equation that tells you if a cat has heart or not.
There are, however, those defining moments that resonate with special talents, and in most cases (not all) provide perspective into the capability of elevating their game. The NCAA Tournament is not the be-all and end-all in determining what beats in a player’s chest, but when a freshman without hesitation nails the biggest shot in the history of their university or a highly touted guard misses two of the most critical free throws in their university’s history those moments cannot be ignored.
The "Leader of Lexington" had his moment and by thriving in said moment showed why he is best suited to lead the Philadelphia 76ers.
The date was March 24th, but the Kentucky guard’s mind were still on a December 3rd loss. The Wildcats were defeated 97 – 92 that night by the very UCLA Bruins team they were moments away from facing this very night. Fox was determined to not just win the current contest, but in some weird chemically unbalanced athlete way of thinking the guard was also going to win the game in December as well. That is the mindset the 76ers NEED to have in order to escape NBA purgatory.
This line of thinking is what winning basketball players have, even if at times it is not what their team wants. A heart that prompted the Texas native to seize the opportunity of playing UCLA a second time, yet with much more on the line. The electrifying guard scored a blistering 39 points, a season high, but it was how the 6’4 guard scored those buckets that left such a lasting impression. In the first contest the Fox shot 8-for-20 with nine assists for 20 points, in the second go round 13-for-20 with four assists.
It was as if the slender slasher had been impatiently waiting for this chance, and when it arrived he reverted to what he does best, attack opposing teams. The difference from the first UCLA vs. Kentucky game to the second game was not an aberration. The most recent Bruins game was a mere microcosm of how the guard has taken his game to another level.
The post season has seen the Wildcat raise every facet of his scoring, from points per (15.5 vs. 23.0) to field goal percentage (46 percent vs. 58 percent) to free throw attempts (5.3 vs. 9.2) and finally field goal attempts (12.1 vs. 13.6). Conversely his assist per (5.0 vs. 2.6) and rebounds per (4.1 vs. 2.8) have dropped, thus hammering home the premise that putting the ball in the hole is instinctive and embedded in Fox. Let us not forget the young man was the leading scorer in the Conference title game, a contest they won 82 – 65.
This ladies and gentlemen is a courage and fearlessness that has been absent in Philly for far too long. A will to be whom and what you are in the most stringent of circumstances is not something a player develops over time, no that is something a player is born with.
The Sixers have been blessed with top picks, but not top selections. The current group is missing that certain maladjusted personality that is necessary for winning. It is a personality trait that finds avenging a loss far sweeter than the actual victory. For a franchise in flux adding a player like De’Aaron who has a winning pedigree is so necessary. More importantly a player who walks in the gym with a scorer’s mentality and an uncompromising competitive fire to pair along Ben Simmons would be a significant step forward in the process (pun intended).
The league is full of great players, but that group shrinks when the discussion changes to great players who elevate their games. The NBA game will always be won by teams that move the ball, yet having a lead guard capable of elevating their play at critical moments is equally as important. From Walt Frazier to Isiah Thomas to Kobe Bryant ball dominate guards who demonstrate that ability are necessary to win championships. The recent post season play of Fox should leave little doubt that the Kentucky standout has this gene in his DNA.
The guile to not just be a part of something great, but to be the reason why that something is great cannot also be missed here. When asked about his teammates performance star shooter Malik Monk stated “He’s motivated just to win because they beat us the first time, outfought us the first time”.
This intangible is why we are here and why this declaration is being made. Great players lose more in defeat then they gain in victory. When asked about their greatest moments there is a pause and reflection, asked about their greatest disappointment there is meticulous list.
There is still some major issues for the Wildcat to work through, most notably his lack of a shooting touch. In time and in an empty gym a jump shot can be developed. But the toughness and scoring mentality that the lanky guard has displayed thus far cannot be developed. The 76ers need a player, not just another wing and not just another shooter, and that is what or better who the Wildcat is.
Oddly enough it is the Texas native’s faults that make him so special. Other players scoring numbers are enhanced by the three point shot, while Fox’s are hurt by it. To be blunt, the Kentucky leader thrives in spite of his poor shooting, while others are perceived to be better because of it. Yes the three point shot is a big part of today’s game but it is not the only part.
There are situations that can birth greatness and while it is too early to proclaim that greatness is in the future for De’Aaron it is not too early to recognize it is attainable. In Philadelphia, there lies another situation that only a certain type of player can flourish. That player must possess an unquantifiable set of basketball traits that may not be perfect for today’s game but are nevertheless perfect for Philadelphia.