Why is the power of “no” so important? Because the rest of the Lakers players defer to Kobe like a big brother who rules the house. Only Fisher is capable of standing up to the superstar. And, I’m not talking about in the locker room or on the sideline. I’m talking about during a game, in the flow of the Lakers' offense.
Phil Jackson’s triangle offense is predicated on flow and ball movement. It’s probably the least scripted offense in the history of the game. I call it the non-structured, structured offense. The Lakers don’t run that many plays because the triangle allows for a multitude of options on any given possession. That is why the offense is both complex and simple all in one. The triangle is based on “read and react,” to quote Jackson, and no one does it better than the Lakers’ point guard, Derek Fisher.
But Fisher’s real talent is his ability to go away from Kobe Bryant in the triangle. Especially before the fourth quarter, Fisher has both the respect from Kobe and superior knowledge of the triangle to pass the ball away from Kobe’s direction in favor of a better matchup and to expedite offensive flow.
Sometimes, during the course of a game, the ball can have a tendency to stop when it reaches Kobe. Down the stretch or when the Lakers desperately need a bucket, that is a good thing. But at the start of the game and, especially to get his teammates involved early, that inhibits the Lakers’ offense. Fisher understands this.
Time and time again, Fisher will send the ball in the opposite direction of Kobe, even when he is demanding the pass. Any other Lakers player would succumb to the pressure and avoid the wrath of Kobe later and give the superstar what he wants. But not Fisher. At least, not all the time. And, this is what makes him so valuable.
Fisher has earned Kobe’s respect, having stood shoulder to shoulder with the superstar warrior like a seasoned wingman, through title after title, battle after battle. Fisher has gone to war with Kobe and the superstar loves that about his point guard. Because of this, even Kobe understands that Fisher’s knowledge of the triangle makes the Lakers better.
This is why Fisher will send the ball away from Kobe in favor of getting the Lakers big-men such as Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum involved early and often. He also understands matchups and the strength of the Lakers' size advantage of most teams.
Phil Jackson has stated repeatedly that this is one of the main reasons why he keeps Fisher on the floor, not only to calm everyone down, but to stand up to Kobe, when necessary and run the Lakers' offense.
This year more than any, with Kobe struggling with a plethora of injuries, it is not only better for the Lakers, but a gain for Kobe to not carry the load of the offense quite as much, at least not in the first three quarters. As evidence of this, I point to Kobe’s play so far in the playoffs, with his assist stats up, especially in the first three quarters.
To the casual observer or Lakers follower, Fisher appears to be just an over-the-hill player, on the backside of his career, who barely seems to contain point guard after point guard, and even calls his own number for a rainbow jumper one too many times.
And, I don’t disagree with any of that. Fisher has been very good, not great, for so many years. This year is no different and it is a slippery slope as his talents continue to decline with age. But, for anything he has lost (it is not much when you consider he never was blessed with amazing athletic talent to begin with), Fisher continues to do what he has always done: prove everyone wrong with hard work. And, he has the rings to show for it as his own personal scoreboard.
He’s not done, either. The more he can say “no” to this year’s weakened Kobe, in favor of his big-men and offensive ball movement, the better the Lakers’ chances of a repeat. Truly, the power of "no" can make the Lakers great.
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