The ongoing conundrum. - USA TODAY Sports
After one game, the Thunder's new acquisitions are a mixed bag. However, Derek Fisher's presence is shaping up to be a titanic problem for the Thunder's bench.
After one game, the Thunder's new acquisitions are a mixed bag. For now, it appears that Derek Fisher will be getting regular time, having effectively replaced Hasheem Thabeet in the rotation. He'll likely take minutes here and there from a few other guys, as well. Ronnie Brewer, on the other hand, looks to be more of a Liggins replacement. He'll come in the game when necessary for some extra defensive help on the perimeter, and perhaps shoot a few corner threes.
For now, I'll reserve judgement on how Brooks uses Brewer. Hopefully he understands that Brewer wasn't built to be a corner three shooter, and that he's best suited to actually run plays and shoot mid-range shots. But with Brewer only playing in garbage time, I can't say much.
However, Derek Fisher's presence is shaping up to be a titanic problem for the Thunder's bench. Here's the Thunder's bench lineup, with Fisher inserted.
The proof is in the pudding. This lineup is going to be an absolute defensive disaster, and it doesn't have the offensive firepower to make up for it.
Reason 1: Derek Fisher is not a shooting guard.
I know, Derek Fisher played as a shooting guard last season. But he wasn't a shooting guard on defense. Because Fisher was playing with Russell Westbrook, he was able to defend the opposing point guard while Westbrook went for the opposing shooting guard. However, in last night's game, he was a shooting guard in all senses of the word. Reggie Jackson assumed his usual point guard spot (despite being two inches taller than Derek Fisher), and Fisher was routinely lost on defense. He often broke from his matchup to cover guys who were already covered, and left his man wide open on more than one occasion. Fisher hasn't played the shooting guard spot in 6 years, and when he did, he was sandwiched between defensive masterminds Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams. Here, he's sandwiched between a second year pro and....Kevin Martin. Which brings me to my next point.
Reason 2: Fisher and Martin are, together, guarding the two most essential positions in the game.
Want to know what position all of the league's highest scorers play? Shooting Guard and Small Forward. It's one thing to have defensive deficiency in the post. The lineup of Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green was able to get by a couple of years ago because of their offense and a lack of post players in the league that could really punish them. But in today's guard-oriented NBA, it's almost impossible for a defensively deficient combo to do well. Both players are undersized for their position, and neither were very good at defending the position they were meant to defend in the first place. Plus, neither has any sort of isolation or playmaking ability, putting even more pressure on Reggie Jackson to produce.
Reason 3: The Lineup is Offensively Broken.
Let's not forget. The old bench lineup that the Thunder were using (Thabeet-Collison-Sefolosha-Martin-Jackson) was a broken lineup that expected Kevin Martin to do what James Harden did. The front court was able to provide little-to-no consistent offense, because Thabeet can't shoot anything beyond a layup and Collison and Sefolosha are the most hesistant shooters in the world. Moreover, Reggie Jackson's ability is improving, but he's not at the point where he can distract defenses enough to get Kevin Martin open. Thus, the offense would devolve into Kevin Martin isolation plays, a lot of which resulted in a bad shot or turnover. This isn't to diss Martin's ability, because he's great at shooting and getting to the line. But his passing ability and court vision aren't superb, and the offense can really stall out when he gets snuffed.
Reason 4: When problems arise, Scott Brooks is going to take minutes away from Martin or Jackson.
When this offenseless and defenseless lineup starts to falter, like it inevitably will, somebody's going to get switched out for the next guy on the rotation. Whether that guy is Ronnie Brewer or Hasheem Thabeet will depend on the situation, and both changes will likely be for the better. The only problem is that I sincerely doubt Fisher is the guy to get ousted. No matter how little he's contributing, Fisher can almost do no wrong in the eyes of Scott Brooks. If you don't believe me, watch Fisher play heavy 4th quarter minutes in the playoffs last year while Harden languishes on the bench.
Who's the guy to get bumped? Likely Reggie Jackson or Kevin Martin. That's the bad part. We don't want to lose Reggie Jackson because he brings a level of athleticism to the point guard position and his game has consistently improved. And we definitely don't want to lose Kevin Martin, who's easily one of the team's top 4 scorers. Either way, you're essentially sitting a player as a matter of circumstance, rather than for poor performance.
Playing the Devil's Advocate
Can the lineup work? There is reason to believe this lineup can work, given the right situation. I've complained in the past that the bench lineup didn't have enough ball movement, and Derek Fisher certainly adds an element of that. He knows how to run plays well, and could allow Reggie Jackson to work off-ball (which he hasn't been able to do). There's also the added advantage of going small, which should allow the Thunder to compete against the league's quicker forwards.
How bad is Derek Fisher, really? A good motto to follow is, "Anything's better than Hasheem Thabeet." As lovable as the guy is, he's just not a viable long-term option, and he's not improving. Derek Fisher, on the other hand, brings experience and a cool head. His on-court value is arguable, but he does hit shots, make plays when it counts, and was a major part of the Thunder's run to the NBA Finals last season.
I know that everything's not in black and white. The addition of Derek Fisher brings a different dynamic to the lineup, and some areas improve while other areas suffer. But from my perspective, the negatives are so staggering that it makes the situation untenable. Sure, the lineup increases ball movement. But who's there to score? The lineup gets smaller. But where's the athleticism and quickness that most small lineups need to be successful? Most of all, how in the world are Fisher and Martin going to guard anybody but the New Orleans Hornets?
The fixes are numerous, and the lineup isn't certain. But I'm sure that this lineup won't see the light of day come June. Because if Brooks doesn't find another way to work in his players, the Thunder definitely won't see the finals.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!