Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
To set the scene, here is what I wrote about Derek Fisher back in March when I debated the idea of benching him or reducing his minutes in the post-season. To sum up that article, here is an excerpt:
After taking a lot at some advanced statistics, I learned that Fisher is actually the worst finisher at the rim in the league for players that have played in at least 20 games and have averaged at least 15 minutes per game. Derek is making just 33.9% of his attempts at the rim. That’s four percent less than the next worse, Rafer Alston, who was recently suspended by the Miami Heat for the rest of the season.
The rest of Fisher’s shooting percentages are down from last season as well. He is shooting just 35% within 10 feet of the basket (37% last year), 38.9% from 10-15 feet (44% last year), 42% from 16-23 feet (50% last year), and 36% from three (39% last year).
Also, for most of this season, Fisher has also made some poor decisions on the defensive end. Even though he is an extremely hard working player and is a very smart/good defender, his inability to stay with some guards has risen his fouls per game rate to a career high. Sometimes, he has to commit a necessary foul and sometimes he gets shafted by the refs, but the majority of the time, he tries to get an edge on the offensive player by bodying them up to the point where it could be considered a crime in most cities. (Bad plays like that have turned Fisher into the most displeased player in the league when calls go against him, taking the title from Kobe).
Because the trade deadline has passed, the Lakers’ only other options are to either increase the minutes of Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar or hand the starting job over to them all together. Since Fisher has been such a great person, I am not sure he would protest his “demotion” in a way that would hurt the team. I mean, I know and hope that he would be upset about losing his job, but I think he would still work as hard as he can when he is on the floor.
With Chauncey Billups, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Ty Lawson, Steve Nash and Tony Parker all looking to be playoff locks at this point, Fisher will either have to step up his game or the Lakers are going to have to make a personnel move in order to give them a better chance of escaping the Western Conference Playoffs.
Three of the players mentioned in that last paragraph did end up meeting up with the Lakers. Russell Westbrook in the first round, Deron Williams in the Conference Semi-Finals and Steve Nash in the Conference Finals. For all but two games during this 16 game stretch (Kobe Bryant switched onto Westbrook for Games 5 and 6), Derek Fisher was forced to guard this trio of younger, quicker, and, in Nash’s case, more creative guards. Adding in last season’s post-season run, that means Fisher has had to take on the second best point guard in the game Deron Williams twice, Aaron Brooks, perhaps the league’s quickest/shiftiest player, Chauncey Billups, Westbrook and Nash.
Can you think of any other player that has had to go up against such a daunting list of opponents? And then consider that Fisher isn’t an average NBA point guard anymore. He’s 35-years old and he’s a step or two slower than all of these guys. With these stars at the peak of their game and Derek at the end of his NBA journey, the advantage the opposition holds over the Lakers is large.
But somehow, the Lakers have overcome the challenge every time. By limiting some of their abilities with team defense and with some better than expected man defense from Fisher, the Lakers have been able to prevent any of these point guards from stealing a series from them. Aaron Brooks came the closest, being the only one of these point guards to have a lead over the Lakers at any point in the series while also forcing them to a do-or-die Game 7. Brooks was probably the most versatile. He was much quicker than Fisher and when he wasn’t blowing by him he was stepping back and hitting three’s.
And this post-season, Fisher has actually brought something to the table offensively, something that seemed impossible just months ago during the regular season. If you talked to any Laker fan in mid-January or February, not one of them would truthfully tell weren’t having doubts about the way Fisher would play in the playoffs. Those doubts are all but gone now.
In 16 post-season games, as the games started to matter, all of Fisher’s numbers have increased. Derek is averaging 11 points, three assists, two rebounds and one and a half steals, all of which are up from the 8/2/2/1 he posted in 82 regular season games. You can point to the increase in playing time as a reason for Derek’s improved stats, but his shooting percentages show true improvements. Fisher is shooting 46% from the field during the playoffs, up from 38% during the regular season and is hitting three’s at a 39% rate (compared to 35% during the regular season).
Fisher has once again lived up to his reputation as a clutch player during this playoff run as well. Fisher continues to hit big shot after big shot in the closing minutes of games. Kobe continues to trust Fisher by getting him the ball and Derek continues to make Bryant’s decisions look great. In the games that decided the Utah and Phoenix series, Fisher had some of his best performances in recent memory. In game three against the Jazz, as Utah fans continued to taunt Fisher with chants about his cancer ridden daughter, Derek poured in 20 points on seven-of-13 shooting including a huge three in the final minute to put the Lakers up for good. In game five against the Suns, Fisher had 22 points on seven-of-12 shooting two three’s.
His shots are falling, his defense has been better than expected and he isn’t forcing things. When Fisher isn’t jacking up shots on bad possessions and instead facilitates within the offense and takes his opportunities when created for him, there isn’t a negative to having him on your team. The effort and desire are never to be questioned and when his decisions are decisive and instinctual, the Lakers are no longer a team without a point guard.
Now that the Lakers have reached the NBA Finals, Fisher will face off against yet another all-star point guard in Rajon Rondo. In 2008, the Lakers opted to have Kobe Bryant guard Rondo because of his suspect jump shot. Bryant was able to lay off of him, preventing excessive dribble penetration while also putting somewhat of a halt on passing lanes into the paint. Kobe will always be plan B for the Lakers. If Fisher is exploited too often, Bryant is good/versatile enough to take on the opposing point guard. But as of now, Fisher is plan A.
Some would say Rondo has gotten better since the Finals, and that’s true to an extent. He seems to have a few more tricks up his sleeve this time around, which, no matter how close to a travel they are, are something to watch. Rondo is also a bit better of a distributor at this point, but its hard to improve on what we saw two years ago. But Rondo’s biggest weakness is still his jump shot and that hasn’t improve much if at all in two years. Fisher doesn’t have to play up on Rondo like he had to with Williams and Nash, which makes it harder for him to blow by him time and time again.
Defensively, Rondo has gained somewhat of a reputation. He was named to the All-NBA Defensive Team as the starting point guard because of his steals. Rondo is an excellent off the ball defender that reads passing lanes well and creates deflections with his long arms. Rondo was able to shut down Jameer Nelson to an extent in the Orlando series because Nelson, a shorter guard, had trouble seeing and passing over the taller and longer Rondo.
That theory would apply to Fisher if the Lakers used the point guard position like a normal team would. But they don’t. Fisher will not be handling the ball much and he won’t run countless pick and rolls that leave him vulnerable. The triangle offense is predicated on ball movement and spacing, so Rondo won’t be able to exert his defensive abilities because that movement is rarely intended to get Fisher the ball.
Though the match-up looks to heavily favor the Celtics, look for Fisher to keep doing what he’s been doing for 13 years. Despite a severe physical disadvantage, Fisher has the mental advantage, the heart of a lion and veins that are full of ice water. When Jameer Nelson laid off of him twice in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last season, Fisher burned him once to tie it in regulation and again to win it in overtime. Those two shots clinched the title for the Lakers. Don’t be surprised if he does that again this year. Its not worth doubting him anymore.