WASHINGTON — The Sacramento Kings had trimmed a 21-point Wizards lead to 14 with 5:55 to play in their Monday contest.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks had seen enough from his second unit.
A minute later, John Wall had Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox on his hip in the high post. He spun, and Fox was left in his wake. Wall’s layup gave the Wizards a 99-83 lead and spurred an 8-0 run.
The game’s outcome was never in doubt again, as Washington downed Sacramento, 110-82.
Wall outclassed Fox on the spin, exposing his defender’s youth and quashing any hopes of a comeback.
“He’s so much bigger than me, I was just making sure he didn’t overpower me and back me all the way down,” Fox explained later. “He felt me leaning to one side and he did the spin move.”
Fox, who came off the bench Monday, was in the starting lineup when the Wizards and Kings squared off in Sacramento Oct. 29. He totaled 26 minutes in both contests, but failed to shoot greater than 30 percent from the field in either game.
Still, Fox insisted, the early-season matchups against Wall have been beneficial to his development. He called Wall “a mentor” and said he talks to Wall more than any other player in the league, save for his teammates on the Kings and former players at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky.
Fox said Wall has urged him to “stay working, stay humble.”
“Don’t get down when you’re losing,” Fox said Wall told him. “This is something top picks go through all the time.”
Wall has been in Fox’s position before. Both guards are lightning-quick Kentucky products who are devastating in the open court. Both came into the league on struggling teams.
In Wall’s first three years in the NBA, the Wizards failed to win 30 games in a single season. After Fox’s first 13 professional games, the Kings sit at an underwhelming 3-10.
Brooks also saw his fair share of losing in his first few years coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Brooks began the 2008-09 season as an assistant to P.J. Carlesimo. After a 1-12 start to the year though, Brooks assumed coaching duties. Despite the coaching change, the losing continued. The Thunder would lose 17 of their next 19 games, and finish the year at 23-59, despite boasting a feisty, rookie point guard you may have heard of: Russell Westbrook.
Brooks offered Fox some advice.
“The only way you get better in this league is by giving great effort every day,” Brooks said. “There’s no easy way, there’s no vitamins you can take to be a better player. You gotta do it with the hard work and grind.”
Although Fox may not have the same ferocity around the rim that Wall and Westbrook have shown from the onset of their careers, he certainly has their speed. And unfortunately for him, the same lack of winning that they suffered through, too.
Given the Kings’ extremely young core – eight of their featured players have less than two years of experience in the league – the jury is still out on how they will fare in coming years.
And although the Kings won’t play the Wizards again until next year, Fox anticipates the next matchup against fellow Kentucky alumnus Wall.
“(I’ll have) a year of experience, a year of getting my body right, getting my body even more NBA-ready,” Fox said. “Just being able to say: ‘I’ve played against him before, I know what he’s going to do,’ but you still have to go out there and play.”
Regardless of how the Kings fare this year, studying from Wall will certainly serve Fox well and he acknowledged as much.
“(Wall) just talks about going through it and being able to power through it from a point guard’s perspective,” Fox said. “Now (the Wizards) are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.”