So, in case you haven't heard, Derek Fisher was spotted at Will Rogers World Airport yesterday with Thunder GM Sam Presti and other various Thunder staff. And he officially signed with the Thunder last night, clearing waivers just in time for our matchup with the Clippers. And he played last night.
But, with that initial meeting, Sam Presti may have made the first bad move of his career as a General Manager.
Look, it's hard to say anything bad about Sam Presti. He built a championship-level squad from nothing, and I honestly can't remember a single move he's made in the past four years that I've disagreed with. The best player he's lost is who? Mustafa Shakur? B.J. Mullens? Shaun Livingston?
But I never thought he would make an addition that would be so potentially harmful to the team. After seeing Eric Maynor go down and Reggie Jackson struggle, Presti seems to think that Derek Fisher is the answer to our problems at backup point guard.
At this point, I've got to explain something about myself. Along with being a Thunder fan, I'm also an obsessive follower of the Golden State Warriors. And back in the 05-06 season, I caught every single game. While I wasn't as astute in my basketball analysis then as I am now, most of my memories of Derek Fisher in his prime are bad ones. Blown wide open layups in transition. Rainbow three point shots that would miss at the worst of times. Atrocious ball movement, even worse than that of Baron Davis. And, worst of all, defense that was considered bad.....while he was playing for the Golden State Warriors. I think that says it all. When he left for Utah in a salary dump, nobody cared.
So, yes, I have a little bit of personal history and bias when it comes to Derek Fisher. His complete cave-in concerning the lock-out this summer didn't help matters. I don't hate him as a person (he's probably one of the most enlightened players in the NBA), but I do hate him as a player.
Let's get down to brass tacks. Why is signing Derek Fisher a bad move?
With the help of mysynergysports.com, I was able to look at all of Derek Fisher's 142 assists and 58 turnovers on the year. (Well, nearly all of them, anyway.) I reviewed each play and marked it down into a specific category of assist or turnover. Below are the tables I came up with.
Below: The whole enchilada! The green chile and chicken variety!
So, what do these charts mean? Well, first of all, let's state the obvious. Derek Fisher never drives the ball. At least, not with the intention of passing. He has a grand total of two assists that came from him standing in the painted area. He pretty much avoids the area altogether, which would account for his really low rebounding numbers.
Derek Fisher loves lobbing the ball into the post. Lobs accounted for 20% of his assists and 36% of his turnovers. This is a part of his game that won't help when he plays for the Thunder. Sure, he could to the occasional lob to Durant running past defenders in transition, but the Thunder don't have back to the basket guys like Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to just sit back and do work. So immediately, 20% of his assists are gone.
He hands the ball off at the top of the key for 25% of his assists. That would work with a guy like Durant, but the plan is for Fisher to work with the second unit. This means he'll be handing the ball off to Ibaka for a jumper (which works) or Harden. Harden's offensive game has grown in the past 2-3 years, but it hasn't gotten to the point where he can get the ball while covered in mid-range and automatically hit a shot or drive to the hole like Kobe can. He's much more comfortable when working from the perimeter.
40% of his assists are off the ball. This means that he gets the assist after he brings the ball up the floor. I don't have any numbers to compare this too, but it seems like an awful lot for a point guard who needs to initiate ball movement. Sometimes he'll bring the ball up the floor and just dump it off, with no play run whatsoever.
The assists where he didn't lob the ball, hand it off, or rotate it around the perimeter only count for 40-50% of his total assists. This pretty much speaks for itself.
Okay, so Derek Fisher isn't the greatest point guard in the world. Why not play him at Shooting Guard?
I'm not going to lie, Derek Fisher has one of the sweetest shots in the league. The arc on his shot is like a perfect rainbow, managing to look spectacular even in misses. But, his shot does miss. Probably a bit too much. He's shooting a ghastly 32.4% on the perimeter for the year. That stat isn't too revealing on its' own, but when you look at the shots he's taken, it's shocking. Fisher was often left alone on the perimeter (since Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum attract their own attention), and he would blow wide open threes. When he's challenged, I've seen him miss the rim completely. In fact, during one game, he airballed two wide open threes.
Okay, so his percentage is a little down. What makes him worse than, say, Daequan Cook, who's shooting 33.9% himself?
Well, for one thing, Derek Fisher only shoots threes. Sure, he'll occasionally dribble in for a shot at the elbow or score in transition, but that's about it. Daequan Cook sits on the perimeter too, but he has the sense and quickness to recognize when he's shut out, fake out his opponent, and dribble in closer for an easy mid-range shot. He can also decide to drive the ball. He can also drive and kick. Heck, he can even pass the ball back.
Now, that's only about four possible actions Cook can take, but it's better than the three that Fisher offers. Shoot, pass, or back out and stagnate the offense. Plus, Cook is a lot taller, and he grabs a decent amount of rebounds. His defense is better too.
What's so bad about Derek Fisher's defense? Isn't he crafty? Doesn't he take charges?
Well, Derek Fisher knows all of the tricks in the book when it comes to defense. Specifically, he really knows how to take a charge and sell a flop. When looking at his charge numbers alone, they're impressive. He drew 54 charges last season, which tied for third best in the league (and three above Nick Collison, who was fifth best). Since a charge amounts to a forced turnover, which is basically a steal, let's add that to his steals category from last year. That brings his steal numbers to 1.87 a game, which is higher than anyone else on his team last year, including Metta World Peace.
But, let's set that number aside for a second. Steals aren't everything. Let's see how Fisher stacked up this season in head-to-head matchups against other PGs in the league. I'll look at points and turnovers, specifically. Granted, he might not have been guarding the opposing PG, but it's as close as you can get to seeing how well he guards his opponent over a long period of time.
NOTE: This table had incorrect totals in the points category earlier. It was corrected, and I apologize for the error.
In turnovers, Fisher comes out behind, and in points, fisher comes out ahead. (Note that positive is bad for Fisher in Points, but negative is bad for Fisher in turnovers, and vice versa.) Inexplicably, he comes out ahead in points overall and in losses, but he had an overall negative effect on wins.
Admittedly, the data is a bit skewed, since Fisher did keep more players below their points averages overall, but got ruined by a few freak performances (Paul, Calderon, Lin, Rondo, Jack).
So, what does this all mean? Derek Fisher, despite the rumors, isn't actually that terrible on defense. He's probably somewhere around sub-par. He has his follies against better guards, but from night to night, he can hold his own. He's not very good at instigating turnovers, but that's made up for by his high charge numbers. On several occasions, he can and has held his own against the best of the league. There's a good article about it over at Silver Screen and Roll, circa 2010. In a nutshell, the article basically tells you that you notice Fisher's bad defense more because the Lakers are a great defensive team.
But, for the record, his offense is worse than his defense. And there are certain nights where he's just going to get beat every single time by his opponent.
What about his championship experience? Rings count for something, don't they?
Okay, I'm not going to deny that Fisher has lots of experience as a player in the NBA. And, I'm not going to deny that he's one of the greatest clutch shooters of all time. Lastly, I'm not going to defile him of credit just because he "happened" to play for the Lakers. He was an integral part of their championship teams, and he deserves every ring he got.
But most of the experience he has is pretty darn useless for a guy like Reggie Jackson. Derek Fisher has spent the majority of his career with a shooting guard who could create for himself, taking pressure off of Fisher. Thunder point guards don't have that luxury, and they're expected to instigate much more offense than that.
Sure, he did spend time on the Warriors and Jazz, guiding their second units. But he was atrocious at it. He had no real ability to distribute the ball (he never averaged more than 4.3 assists in those seasons), and his field goal and three point percentages hit an all-time low (aside from his year on the 03-04 Lakers).
You know who could give better advice to a young point guard? Someone who had a much better career than Derek Fisher, and still won a ring? Actually, I can think of two guys. Scott Brooks and Maurice Cheeks.
There's still arguments to be made in the other direction, like that Fisher can advise the players on a much more personal level than a coach can, can provide a cool presence on the floor, and can advise on more than the simple mechanics of being a point guard. But I don't really think this is worth the guaranteed playing time we're giving Fisher.
Guaranteed playing time?
Yes, you heard me right. Fisher came here because he was guaranteed time on the floor. This isn't a signing like that of Kevin Ollie, who was lucky to just get a job. Fisher had competitive offers from the Bulls and Heat, both teams who seem stronger than the Thunder at this point in the season. Think he won't fight for his playing time? He's started for the vast majority of his career, and he once left the Warriors because he was tired of sitting on the bench behind Baron Davis.
Okay, so we've gone through everything about Derek Fisher. He sucks on offense except as a three point specialist, he can't distribute, and his defense is below par. We get it. But, what in the heck makes Reggie Jackson better? He's shooting 21% from three, and 33% from the field.
What makes Reggie Jackson better? Two words: Ball Movement. As I tried to demonstrate above, Derek Fisher is one of the absolute worst point guards in the league when it comes to initiating ball movement (note that I didn't say continuing ball movement, which he's okay at). The Thunder's second unit has the scoring weapons necessary to succeed, but when the ball isn't moving, the offense can stagnate in a bad way. That's why everyone was so worried when Eric Maynor got injured, because he was basically the glue that held the second unit together.
Jackson is enough of a threat inside to actually be able to draw defenders towards himself, and good enough of a ball handler to not have to throw the ball away any time someone gets close to him. He's also really good at finding the open shooter, and he'll actually run to follow the offense on a fast break, while Fisher will just lob it. He's not perfect by any stretch, but he is improving, and a better option as a ballhandler than Fisher.
With Fisher at the helm of the second unit, ball movement might stop completely. Creating offense will soon become the sole responsibility of Harden, who is hit and miss. He's shown a good ability to find other players after a drive, but if he's running a set play, he's prone to telegraph his passes. He can also get trapped on the wing, and he gets headstrong and makes bonehead decisions sometimes. But the bottom line is that his ballhandling and passing skills just aren't there. With Fisher at PG, his turnover numbers will go way, way up.
The end result is, on average, one more shot hit a game at the expense of the stability and offensive efficiency of an entire unit.
Look, I might be totally wrong here. Maybe James Harden will learn to work as a ball-handler, Derek Fisher will work effectively on the perimeter, and we'll win a championship. In that case, you can slather a big Jimmy's Egg all over my face. I won't mind. And I'm going to cheer on Fisher, regardless of my feelings about his signing. But from what I've seen of Fisher over the course of his career, giving him time on the floor is going to cost the Thunder. And when the Thunder play games as closely as they do, the smallest slip up can mean the difference between what is, and what might have been.
Was signing Derek Fisher the right call? Will he help or hurt the Thunder? Don't sit silently, vote in the poll, post a comment!
Thanks to Ben Luschen for helping me develop some of the ideas in this story.