It's practically a given that members of the Oklahoma City Thunder not named Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook will fly under the radar. Durant and Westbrook are megastars and naturally soak up most of the spotlight.
Because of that, a few of OKC's players don't get the attention they should, with one player in particular standing in the forefront: Derek Fisher. Fisher's play for the Thunder has been completely understated this season. He's having a terrific year and has become Oklahoma City's most underrated player.
Fisher's biggest contribution to the Thunder this season has been (believe it or not) on the defensive end. Because Fisher's 39 years old, there's a general perception among fans that he's too slow to defend just about anyone. And while that perception has led to humorous tweets like the one below, it's also just plain wrong.
Derek Fisher rode his hover round right to the heart of the Clippers defense for that lay up.— Thunder Obsessed (@ThunderObsessed) November 22, 2013
With Fisher on the floor, OKC is defending at a top-three level (trailing only the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls), and according to some advanced metrics, he's been the Thunder's top perimeter defender this season.
ESPN.com's new RPM (real plus-minus) system pegs him as the league's fifth-best defensive guard and a top-10 perimeter defender overall.
Each one of these metrics has its flaws, but the fact they all point to Fisher being a very good defender is telling. Even if Fisher isn't as quick as he used to be, he makes up for it in other ways, namely his insane strength and general defensive smarts.
One of OKC's best player combinations is a wacky three-guard lineup featuring Fisher, Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Those lineups score at a ridiculous rate and are able to survive defensively in no small part because Fisher is strong enough to handle defending most 3s.
Since Fisher often deals with size mismatches, opponents post him up more than any OKC guard even though Fisher defends post-ups better than any of those players, per Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required).
Opponents are shooting just 36 percent in the post against Fisher and turning the ball over at a massive rate, per Synergy. Fisher's strength allows him to push even bigger guards and forwards out of the paint, and as a result, a lot of the post-up attempts he defends never really get off the ground.
Take a look at the Dallas Mavericks' attempt to feed Monta Ellis the ball down low against Fisher. The Mavs are looking to get Ellis the ball around this area:
But Fisher pushes Ellis all the way out to the three-point line before he's able to make a successful catch.
Fisher has been solid defending the pick-and-roll as well. He may be the least athletic of the Thunder guards (obviously), but he has a knack for navigating screens the others don't.
Jackson and Jeremy Lamb sometimes get mashed by picks, and Westbrook is a bit too fond of the from-behind steal. Thabo Sefolosha is always solid, but he's missed a hefty chunk of games, leaving Fisher as the team's top perimeter stopper.
That's some impressive stuff from anyone, not just a 39-year-old. And for what it's worth, Fisher also draws a lot of charges, per Hoops Manifesto. Some of those charges are pretty egregious flops (never forget!), but whatever the case, he knows how to draw them.
Offensively, Fisher isn't asked to do much more than launch threes, and that's the perfect role for him. He got off to a shaky start this season, shooting just 26 percent from deep through December. But since the start of the new year, he's connected on 42 percent of his threes, second only to Caron Butler.
Unlike most shooters, Fisher prefers to hang around the wings rather than the corners. He's taken nearly 100 more above-the-break threes than corner threes, and he's hitting 43 percent of those threes compared to 28 percent (!!) from the corners.
Fisher's inability to hit from the corners hasn't much affected the Thunder's spacing, though. If anything, it might make him an easier target on slash-and-kicks. OKC even runs some nifty plays to get Fisher looks from the wings, which are especially effective in the three-guard lineups mentioned earlier.
Fisher's off-the-bounce game is basically non-existent at this point, but with Jackson back into the second unit, that's hardly a big problem. He can still capitalize on switches and attack bigs off the dribble, and that's really all OKC needs from him.
In fact, in terms of creating his own offense, Fisher's biggest weapon has been a Stephen Curry-esque pick-and-roll three.
Fisher's made a whopping 50 percent of threes out of the pick-and-roll, per Synergy, and while that's obviously not sustainable, it's a useful weapon when the shot clock's running down.
Fisher has given the Thunder a big boost this season, and if he wasn't there providing steady minutes in Westbrook's absence, OKC almost certainly wouldn't be holding the second seed in the Western Conference. His future with the team is unclear, but he's been invaluable (and underrated) this season.