CHICAGO -- Sacramento Kings guard Malik Monk wasn't surprised. Kings head coach Mike Brown knew it was going in, too. When All-Star guard De'Aaron Fox elevated over Ayo Dosunmu for a potential game-winning 3-pointer Wednesday night, Chicago Bulls fans inside the United Center could be heard letting out an exasperated "No!," likely because they've seen this movie before.
With four seconds left and the game tied at 114 apiece, Fox drained a 3-pointer to lift Sacramento to its 41st win of the season, and secured the Kings a .500 or better record for the first time since 2006.
The win took a comeback effort after being down by 16 points in the first half, but the late-game heroics by Fox -- which also included a mid-range jumper that looked like it would've iced the game for the Kings -- were the highlight of the evening. When the Bulls knotted up the score in the closing seconds with some clutch moments of their own, Sacramento needed to call upon its clutch King once more, and he delivered.
DE'AARON FOX CALLED GAME 😱— NBA (@NBA) March 16, 2023
KINGS WIN IN CHICAGO pic.twitter.com/ZVNNIcaAS9
Monk, who had a great view of Fox's 3-pointer as he stood in the corner on the floor patiently waiting to see what his former University of Kentucky teammate would do, wasn't surprised in the slightest by Fox's latest clutch moment.
"I'm gonna keep saying it man, I'm not surprised," Monk quipped after the game. "I've been with him for a long time, I know what he's going to do. I got the most confidence in him. Just Fox being Fox."
"Just Fox being Fox," a common refrain among Kings players and coaches who have had a front row seat to Fox's clutch performances all season long. Fox currently leads the NBA in total clutch points this season, which accounts for points scored in the last five minutes of the game when the margin is within five points. But the fact that Fox leads that category isn't the surprising part, it's how far apart he is from every other person behind him in that stat. Fox has scored 180 clutch-time points this season, the next closest competitors are DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler with 138 each. According to our CBS Sports senior researcher Doug Clawson, that 42-point margin is the largest gap between the top two clutch scorers in the last 15 years, going back to when LeBron James outpaced Kobe Bryant by 104 points during the 2007-08 season.
Player clutch stats 2022-23
|Player||Total clutch points||Clutch FG%||Clutch team record|
Fox's clutchness, which has become commonplace to Kings players and coaches at this point in the season, wasn't something that Brown expected when he became Sacramento's head coach this past summer.
"That was one of the things that when I took the job, I didn't know how he would be consistently in the clutch," Brown said.
But now after watching it unfold, Brown has openly been campaigning for Fox to make an All-NBA team, and has called him the most clutch player in the league.
We'll have to see how the All-NBA teams shake out, though Fox should certainly be in the mix for it. However, Fox's dominance in the clutch makes him a shoo-in to win the inaugural Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year award. No one has been as consistent at the end of games as he has, and what's even more impressive is the variety in which he's getting these points.
Fox is widely considered the fastest guard in the league, and he'll use that breakneck speed to get by just about any defender placed in front of him. When that happens, he has great control at the rim where he's finishing at a 78% clip, not just a career-high, but the highest mark this season by a guard. His mid-range game has gradually improved over his career, to the point where he's converting on 50% of those shots, which ranks in the 91st percentile. His 3-point efficiency is the only wobbly point of his offensive game, but in March so far he's been shooting 37% from beyond the arc. You mix all that together and it's no wonder he's been so dangerous with the game on the line.
It's also quite ironic that two of Fox's game-winning shots this season have come off of 3-pointers, an area where he struggles, including the one against the Bulls. The other was this casual 35-footer back in November against the Orlando Magic:
Fox has the offensive weaponry to dismantle just about any defense. But then again there's plenty of players in the league who have versatile offensive games who haven't been as lethal as Fox is with the game on the line. So what puts him a notch above the rest? If you ask Brown, he'll harp on not just the basketball acumen Fox possesses, but the aspects that can't be quantified by a single statistic.
"His presence, calmness, demeanor, however you want to call it has just been fantastic down the stretch of games, especially one possession games," Brown said of his All-Star guard. "And so for him to walk into that three, not to disrespect anybody, but when he shot it, I just felt it was going in. And that has nothing to do with me, because we didn't do anything but tell everybody to get the heck out the way. It's just a confidence that he exudes during that time in the game, and he's shown play after play after play that he can go get it done."
Fox credits his teammates and coaches for instilling confidence in him in those moments, and as far as the trend of him hitting all of his game-winners on the road this season, there's certainly some significance behind that.
"If you ask anybody whose ever asked me would I rather hit a game winner at home or hit one on the road, I'd much rather do it on the road," Fox said. "I'd rather silence the crowd than kind of get hyped, but that's just the way that I am as a person. Quiet, not loud. So I like doing it on the road."
Whether it's at home or on the road, Fox has been the reason why Sacramento has the sixth-best clutch win percentage. While other individual awards may come down to the final game of the regular season to decide, the league should already be engraving Fox's name on that Clutch Player of the Year award right now. And if he can carry this dominance into the playoffs, opposing teams better hope Fox doesn't have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.