The Sacramento Kings chose University of Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox with the fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I’m speechless right now,” Fox said on ESPN. “I can’t even describe it. … The work’s just beginning.”
General Manager Vlade Divac pounced when Fox was available in hopes of finding a leader who can help end an 11-year playoff drought.
“I know it’s going to be tough to change a team, but for me I wanted to come in and be able to affect the game right away,” Fox said, according to a report by the Associated Press. “A lot of people say I could be a franchise changer, and that’s what I really want to be.”
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Fox boosted his stock when he outplayed UCLA’s Lonzo Ball in the Sweet Sixteen, scoring 39 points in a Wildcats win. But Ball still went ahead of him at second overall to the Los Angeles Lakers and another point guard, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, went first to Philadelphia.
“It doesn’t matter what order we get picked in, the motivation is already there,” Fox said. “We’re all going to the NBA. There’s motivation every game. You’re always playing a great point guard.”
This marked the fourth time since 2010 that the Kings came out of the draft with a first-round player from Kentucky. They drafted center DeMarcus Cousins in 2010, big man Willie Cauley-Stein in 2015 and swapped picks last year to end up with center Skal Labissiere.
The Kings are once again looking to rebuild after missing the playoffs for an 11th straight season. They traded away star Cousins during the season to New Orleans and stumbled to the finish in a 32-50 season under first-year coach Dave Joerger.
By cutting ties with Cousins, Sacramento is trying to build around a core led by young players like Cauley-Stein, Labissiere and Buddy Hield in hopes of developing a team worthy of the fancy new downtown arena that opened last season.
Fox, who is from Houston, averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.4 turnovers as a freshman for the Wildcats.
Fox talked on ESPN about comparisons of his game to another Cat, John Wall.
“Speed kills and you can’t really teach it,” he said.
Fox shot 47.8 percent from the field and 73.9 percent from the free-throw line during his lone UK season. His 24.6-percent performance from three-point range is one area the former Cat will look to improve on at the next level.
“Just lightning speed in the open court,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said of Fox before the draft. “And he does a good job of creating for others. … His jumper is inconsistent, but he shoots a good ball. So with some work, I think he can become a much better shooter. But his deal is transition and he’s a very good on-ball defender.”
Fox was the SEC Tournament’s MVP after averaging 22.0 points per game en route to the title.
He was a third-team All-American selection by CBS Sports, USA Today and ESPN.
“De’Aaron’s speed, length and ability to pick up defensively from 94 feet set him apart from his peers,” UK Coach John Calipari said when the school announced Fox was declaring for the draft. “De’Aaron came in here focused from day one, and to see his improvement from the beginning of the season to the end was special. What you saw from De’Aaron over the last month and a half of the season I think is what NBA teams will get for the future.”