De'Aaron Fox may be the future, but right now Frank Mason is the Kings' best rookie
After four years at Kansas, Mason is much better equipped to make an immediate impact on the NBA
For the Sacramento Kings, the point guard position has been a black hole for the better part of the last decade. Ever since they traded Mike Bibby back in 2008, the Kings have lacked a lead guard to build the franchise around. Tyreke Evans turned out to be a shooting guard and Isaiah Thomas couldn't coexist with DeMarcus Cousins, so the result has been a revolving door of floor generals with no end in sight.
So you can imagine how delighted Vlade Divac and the Sacramento front office were to see Kentucky point guard De'Aaron Fox's name still on the board as they were put on the clock with the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. A 6-foot-3 (6-foot-5 if you count the hair), lightning fast point guard with a winning pedigree -- he famously scored 39 points in a Sweet 16 victory over Lonzo Ball's UCLA Bruins in the NCAA tournament -- was like an early Christmas present to Sacramento gift-wrapped by the basketball gods themselves.
"If we had the No. 1 pick, he would've been our guy," Divac said after the draft. "De'Aaron is our future."
Little did the Kings know that 21 games into the season, Fox wouldn't even be the best rookie point guard on their roster. That's because in the last seven games since becoming a permanent fixture in the rotation, second-round pick Frank Mason III has emerged as the Kings' most reliable young point guard.
Let's get one thing straight -- this is no knock on Fox. He's a 170-pound, 19-year-old trying to figure out how all the tools he's been blessed with apply to the NBA game. Meanwhile, Mason, a 5-foot-11, 23-year-old man who spent four years in an elite Kansas program and was named the consensus NCAA Player of the Year as a senior, is much closer to a finished product.
But there's no disputing that Mason has been better, and has earned the trust of coach Dave Joerger.
"He's a stud muffin, man," Joerger said before the Kings' 110-106 upset win over the Warriors on Monday. "He's tough and he picks guys up. He gets in the lane and he makes plays. He can shoot it a little bit. ... I'm a big fan of his, and I look forward to coaching him for a long time, hopefully."
Mason has averaged 9.4 points, 4.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds in his last seven games, while Fox has averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds over the same stretch. Though the averages are in the same ballpark, the advanced statistics support what the eye test shows you -- the Kings have been much better with Mason on the court than Fox.
|Kings net rating (last six games)||On Court||Off Court||Difference|
This is an incredibly small sample size, but it highlights the fact that Mason has been much more effective as a floor general for the Kings. It was never more evident than when he played the entire fourth quarter in the team's win over the Warriors. Watch as Mason uses his strength and savvy to keep Shaun Livingston behind him, giving him space to make the floater:
Later in the quarter, Mason once again gets past his defender and uses a similar hesitation move to create space. This time Draymond Green steps up to stop him, leaving Willie Cauley-Stein wide open for the alley-oop that tied the game:
"I love playing with Willie," Mason said after the game. "He's super athletic, and I feel like I can put the ball anywhere near the rim and he'll go up and get it. On that play I did a good job of baiting Draymond a little, and gave Willie a little space and just kind of threw it up, and he finished it."
Mason's awareness and poise in the halfcourt is something that only comes with experience, and something that Fox has yet to master. Take for instance this play, where Fox loses his defender with a nice, quick crossover. Instead of taking the pull-up or step-back, however, Fox takes an extra dribble to the free-throw line, which actually closes the gap between him and his defender, making the shot easier to contest:
There's little doubt that Fox will one day become a better player than Mason, but until he learns to harness all that athleticism and skill into more effective movements, Mason will have the edge.
It would be easy for a 19-year-old who's being told that he's the face of the franchise to become frustrated by losing playing time to a second-rounder. But Fox and Mason have a healthy competition -- one that goes way back to when Fox was in high school.
"When I went on my visit at Kansas, [Mason] was actually my host, so we've known each other for a while," Fox told CBS Sports. "At practice we go at each other, we're making each other better. And then in games we just support each other."
It will be interesting to see how Joerger delegates the minutes for the rest of the season. But for now, the Kings' front office -- and the entire city of Sacramento -- can rest easy knowing that they've finally resolved their point guard dilemma with not one, but two talented young players.
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