Reputation and Performance: Rating Derek Fisher
The NBA is all about reputation.
For example, despite the fact that LeBron’s teammates are so bad that not one of them would crack the Lakers, Magics or Celtics’ starting fives (unless Mo Williams played with enough confidence to replace Fisher), the storyline becomes how LeBron "couldn’t get it done" because he's not as great as we thought.
Or imagine if instead of Pau Gasol chucking Kendrick Perkins out of bounds in the final minutes of a decided Finals Game Two, the players were reversed; wouldn't you expected a flagrant foul to be called on Perkins?
Pau can get away with a blatant shove because he’s a “soft” Euro. LeBron, despite already having four playoff buzzer-beaters to his credit, still isn’t a “closer.”
And somehow, everyone has talked themselves into thinking Derek Fisher is good. But he is kind of good, isn’t he? I mean, he's won a bunch of rings, right?
How do we rate a player who seems to have such an impact in some games, and yet we know empirically can’t be that good?
Going into the playoffs, the big story was how Derek Fisher was the one weak point of the Lakers (7.5pts, 2.5ast, 39%FGs). Now, because the Lakers have advanced to the Finals for the third straight year, the story has changed to how Fisher has “held his own” and even prevailed against the three excellent guards he’s faced thus far.
Some people think that because of Fisher’s standing in the league—he’s the head of the NBA Players Association and reportedly has an enormous dong—he is given the benefit of the doubt on everything from flops, to dirty fouls.
When we look at the numbers, at least offensively, Fisher has stepped his game up. He’s connecting on a higher percentage of his shots and shooting more often (scoring three points per game more on 1.5 extra shots). Fisher doesn’t rack of the assists because he can’t penetrate, but those numbers are a bit up too.
But has he really outplayed any of his opponents?
Young buck Russell Westbrook was dogging him so hard that Bryant mercifully switched on to Russ and left Fisher to contend with the likes of Thabo Sefolosha .
Deron Williams only shot 39% from the floor (22pts nine ast per game in that series), but that had much more to do with the entire Lakers defense keying in him because Utah had no wing scorers or size down low. In the final possession of game three, Ron Artest was the one guarding Williams on the last shot.
Steve Nash, after the first two games, absolutely went off on the Lakers and ended up shooting 53% from the field and averaging 12 assists for the series.
So here’s where we are on Fisher:
He can’t really guard anybody, and this is a major problem against Boston. The Celtics have the best backcourt in the league, and the Lakers can’t hide Fisher on any of their wing players. At 6-1, Fisher can only get so much mileage out of his old man strength and toughness.
But Fisher seems almost irreplaceable offensively because of the Lakers lack of depth at his position. He communicates better with Kobe than anyone ever, he’s confident in pressure situations and his teammates trust him as a leader. Then again, you could never run any sort of play through him (or even for him?) and his offense comes almost solely on kick-outs and fast break three pointers.
Fisher is a classic example of rating intangibles against tangibles. Commentators and analysts love intangibles because they allow you to describe a player in poetic terms with roots in exactly why we love basketball. Yet is this accurate?
Fisher has lots of playoffs repetitions, is known to be a dedicated and brave father and is articulate and friendly in the media. Think this has something to do with the lionization of a guy scoring 10.7 pts in 33.5 minutes per game?
Against the Celtics I think we are going to see Fisher for what he is: an old, tough, slow point guard who, despite his grit and gamesmanship, is ultimately over-matched.
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