Is Derek Fisher the Final Piece to OKC Thunder Championship Puzzle?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 17:  Derek Fisher #37 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on in the second half against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 17, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder need Derek Fisher. Not in the same way that they need Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but they need him all the same.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, they got him (again), too.

On the surface, we see a 38-year-old point guard who hasn't seen a second of NBA action since December. We see a deteriorating athlete who never averaged more than 13.3 points per game in his prime. We see a source of irrelevancy.

What the Thunder see, however, is an opportunity.

Barring another unforeseen affinity for overworking the point man on Scott Brooks' behalf, Fisher isn't going to play much. Reggie Jackson has played admirably (sort of) behind Westbrook, so he really isn't a necessity.

As Royce Young of ESPN TrueHoop's Daily Thunder notes, though, Fisher, in his own way, is a necessity:

But having Fisher as a break-in-case-of-emergency is a very wise decision. Smart player with tons of experience. Knows the system, knows the team, knows his role. He’s hit big shots, played big minutes and isn’t going to rattle if you’ve got to toss him into a big game because of foul trouble or an injury.

Insurance policies are underrated in today's NBA, which is surprising, especially when you look at Oklahoma City.

The Thunder aren't a team whose success is predicated upon depth. Just seven players average more than 12 minutes per game and of those seven, just one (Nick Collison) is playing fewer than 25. Per, their bench is ranked 23rd in points per game as well.

Oklahoma City needs some assurance that if a Westbrook or even a Kevin Martin were to get injured, they have a playmaker who can shoot threes who's waiting to play some minutes.

Fisher isn't what you would consider an especially crafty or potent floor general, but he's shooting 37.1 percent from beyond the arc for his career. He also shot 37.5 percent from deep during last year's playoffs with the Thunder.

Still, even I'll admit that such a hole could've been filled elsewhere. Fisher isn't the most adept of defenders and again, he's 38.

This was more about the intangibles he can bring to the hardwood, though. This was more about his poise under pressure, his knack for hitting big shots and yes, his ability to keep this exuberant Thunder team in check.

You wouldn't understand just how young Oklahoma City is by looking at the standings. With the third-highest winning percentage in the NBA, the Thunder tend to exemplify empiricism more than anything else. Leadership isn't a problem—to an extent.

Looking to Durant and Westbrook to win basketball games isn't a flimsy game plan, but it is not without its flaws either. Both superstars are still so young; Oklahoma City is still so young.

Prior to signing Fisher, Collison (32) was the eldest of the Thunder. They had just two players over the age of 30, and just four players over the age of 27.

Is that a problem?

Yes, and no.

Oklahoma City's uptempo offense isn't conducive with a roster built similar to that of the New York Knicks. The Thunder need able, spry bodies to run the floor and torch opposing defense's with explosiveness, not their social security checks.

And yet, added experience come playoff time isn't just invaluable, it's imperative.

Overlooking the fact that Fisher is pushing 40 for a second, we must understand that for a player of his age, he runs the floor quite well. He's of an athletic build and though his knees have 16-plus years of burn on them, the Thunder scored more points with him on the floor during their 2012 postseason campaign.

More important than his ability to keep pace with the high-octane stylings Oklahoma City preaches is how his experience completes what is still an imperfect puzzle.

What is the one thing the Thunder lack most? A point guard who's afraid to shoot? A leading scorer who isn't just skin and bones? A bearded wonder coming off the bench?

It's discipline.

Durant and company are among the best in the business at executing in game situations, but even the lanky wunderkind is immature in his own right.

We often forget (though Westbrook's childish antics remind us plenty) that Durant and Westbrook are just 24, and Serge Ibaka is 23. They've been through the workings of the playoffs and the NBA finals before, but they still need that seasoned leadership to help ground them.

If you think I'm wrong, then you need to think again.

The often portrayed as infallible Durant ranks third in technicals this season (11). Kendrick Perkins is tied for fifth (10) and Westbrook 10th (9). Oklahoma City ranks second in technicals received overall as well (70). 

There is some improvement to be made there. Incessant complaining isn't going to get you anywhere in the regular season, and it stands to get you eliminated from a playoff series.

Should Durant, Westbrook or anyone else find themselves being removed from a postseason contest, there are no mulligans, no do-overs. If they unload to the point of suspension, there are no take-backs.

While we'd like to believe Oklahoma City is smart enough as a collective to take their exorbitant amount of complaining down a notch when it matters most, it can only help to have a locker room leader like Fisher whispering in their ear.

Fisher can help Durant master the art of Zen that has failed him this season; he can help him channel his rage in a constructive manner.

Let's not forget about Westbrook either. He stands to benefit most from the point guard's presence.

Fisher can comfort and he can communicate with Westbrook when he throws one of his sideline temper-tantrums. He can educate him in the art of conversing productively with reporters

He can serve as a mentor to Westbrook and an on-court coach for the entire team.

Focusing on what Fisher can't do is futile.

We know he won't score 15 points a night. We know he won't drop 10 dimes a game. We know he won't rival the likes of the league's best point guards.

But what he will do is serve as an emotionally responsible leader, someone who can help transform a convocation of boys into a faction of men.

Someone with five championship rings who can help ensure Durant and Westbrook have a legitimate opportunity at acquiring their first.



*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and unless otherwise noted.


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