It must be confusing for casual NBA fans to look at NBA mock drafts and see De'Aaron Fox as the third or fourth point guard off the board. Two of the guys often ahead of him -- Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr. -- didn't even make the tournament, and nearly everyone watched Fox cut apart Lonzo Ball and UCLA for 39 points in the Sweet 16.
Fox saved his best basketball for last, and his averages in the NCAA and SEC tournaments paint an impressive picture.
Averaging nearly 29 points per 40 minutes on the type of efficiency Fox posted is nearly unheard of for a freshman point guard in tournament play.
So why isn't Fox in the conversation for the possible No. 1 pick with Fultz and Ball?
That jumper is a problem
As any NBA fan should know, shooting is of the utmost importance in today's league. That is a big issue for De'Aaron Fox.
He only shot 24.6 percent from three-point range on the year, and struggled to convert outside 15 feet all season long. There aren't many great NBA point guards shooting less than 33 percent from beyond the arc.
Lacking an outside shot allows teams to duck under ball screens against Fox and sag off him. That, in turn, makes it harder for his teammates to find space to score because Fox's defender leaves him to crowd the lane. That combination can be really damaging to an offense. Even when he converts, you can see how much the defense sags off Fox's jumper. His man doesn't even put a hand up to contest the shot.
Shooting is far and away Fox's largest flaw, but he's not perfect in all other respects either. His defense and his decision-making at times leave a lot to be desired.
Despite his exploits, he put up a subpar 1:1 assist to turnover ratio he posted in tournament play. He did a good job setting up his teammates and avoiding turnovers early on this year, but as he shifted to more of a scorer role down the stretch, he struggled to take care of the ball. Defensively, he has the quickness and length to harass guys, but he plays overzealously and gambles himself out of position.
But Fox's upside is right there with anyone
If Fox was so effective at the college level despite all his weaknesses, imagine his upside if he improves. As The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote, Fox might be the No. 1 pick if he could shoot. His dazzling performance against UCLA showed why.
UCLA played Fox like he had a jump shot, going over every screen on him. Because of that, the whole world saw what Fox could do when guarded like he could shoot. He is simply too quick and explosive at the rim for almost any big man to contain him.
There are reasons for optimism with Fox's shot. He made nine of his last 19 threes on the year, and seemed to be getting more comfortable pulling up in the mid-range area towards the end of the season. Fox is so quick that even turning himself into a respectable shooter could make him impossible to guard.
Add in Fox's skinny frame and the potential for him to mature as a defender and distributor, and you get a prospect that's already really freaking good and has plenty of room for growth in his game. Fultz and Ball may be more polished than Fox, but given a jump shot and some refining, his upside as a two-way force is just as high as either guy.
Anyone wanting to draft Fox must ask two questions
One, how much do they believe in Fox's shot improving? Second, and even more importantly, how much does Fox's jumper need to improve (if at all) for him to be successful?
We should expect Fox to improve some as a shooter. Most prospects do. However, he has a long way to go to make college threes consistently, much less NBA ones. It's far from a given that Fox will turn himself into even a 33 percent shooter from deep. The team that drafts him should be factoring in his upside, but also trying to figure out just how good he can be without a shot.
There aren't any current models of point guards on good teams who can't shoot at all. Below-average marksmen like Westbrook or even Dennis Schroder are far ahead of where Fox currently is. Terrible shooters like Elfrid Payton, Rajon Rondo, and Michael Carter-Williams haven't been successful recently. It's possible that a non-shooting point guard simply cannot succeed in today's NBA. It is also possible that the right non-shooting point guard hasn't come around recently.
At the beginning of his career, Tony Parker couldn't shoot a lick, yet was an integral part of a championship-level Spurs offense. He was so darn quick and crafty that the Spurs built a team that worked to his strengths and played around his weaknesses. Fox is a better prospect than any recent non-shooting guard and might even be able to get by without a shot.
The team that drafts him must either believe that he can improve his jumper or feel confident there is a place in the modern league for a point guard who can't shoot.