Name: Derek Fisher
Nickname: "D-Fish," "The Fish That Saved L.A."
Derek Fisher made an immediate name for himself when he was drafted by the Lakers in 1996 and ended up in the rotation as a spot scorer. He served to take advantage of when pressure was drawn by Kobe and Shaq, and was a part of the early 2000s Laker three-peat. But he became very famous for his shot in the 2004 Western Conference Semi-Finals. With a mere 0.4 seconds on the clock, he flipped up a game winning miracle to put the Lakers up 3-2 on the San Antonio Spurs.
But after that season, Derek Fisher left the Lakers for the Golden State Warriors, seeking a bigger role. He was hoping to start, but he mostly ended up as a 6th man, languishing on bad teams with no ball movement. In 2006, he signed with Utah, where he became most famous for saving Utah's home court advantage in the Western Conference Semi-Finals that season. He entered the arena in the third quarter after being at his infant daughter's cancer surgery in New York, with the Jazz struggling due to Deron Williams' foul trouble and an injury to Dee Brown. He ended up forcing Baron Davis out of bounds on a critical fourth quarter play, and hitting a three to put the Jazz up by six in overtime.
He returned to the Lakers after that season, as the bigger city of LA could provide better medical care for his young daughter. He ended up as their starting point guard with the same role he had on the old Lakers teams. He was an essential part of the 2009 and 2010 Lakers Championship runs, providing veteran defensive presence and occasional offensive spark. But his points per game went down as he aged, and he was eventually traded (without prior consent) to the Rockets. The Rockets cut him, knowing he wanted to play for a contender, and he ended up signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder to replace their injured backup point guard, Eric Maynor.
Coming into the season, I expected Derek Fisher to be an absolute disaster. The Thunder needed an offensive orchestrator like Maynor, what was an aging spot shooter like Fisher going to do for our championship hopes? His shot had gone to crap, and he was missing wide open attempts during the season. He couldn't drive the lane, and he couldn't move the ball at all. His defense was a little bit below what it used to be and he had given up huge nights to some point guards, but generally he was good at taking charges and being in the right place for steals. Still, I just didn't see how he would fit into a system that was already struggling from a lack of ball movement, much like that of the Golden State Warriors back in the day.
Below: Grades, Memorable Game, Memorable Moment!
Regular Season Grade: D
And, during the regular season, he was actually quite horrible. He had trouble adjusting to the Thunder's offense early on, and his shooting woes continued. On four separate occasions, all against playoff teams, Derek Fisher failed to score a point. He did redeem himself in the very late stages of the season with a couple of good performances, but they were mostly in the late stages of garbage time, or after games had ceased to matter. Fisher, who had become known for hitting big shots, was actually failing to deliver when the Thunder needed it, and Brooks was giving him a lot of minutes.
Post-Season Grade: B (overall)
But in the playoffs, Derek Fisher shined. All of the haters out there (in OKC, that constitutes mostly just me) really had to eat some serious crow. He wasn't exactly consistently brilliant, but he hit some really excellent shots and held his own defensively, which is all we really needed him to do. Later on, when the team was in disarray, he went a little bit outside his comfort zone, running the fast break and driving the lane. Usually he was smart enough to make it successful, at one point even drawing a double team in the post, which is pretty unfathomable if you had seen him play that season.
Round 1 vs Mavericks: A
The first round was a total renaissance for Derek Fisher. While he spent most of the regular season just shooting threes, he actually spent games 3 and 4 getting inside the arc and shooting more obtainable two pointers. This resulted in three double digit performances in games 2, 3, and 4. He also had his share of heroics, helping the Thunder get a four point lead late in the fourth quarter of game two with an open three.
Round 2 vs Lakers: D+
Here we saw kind of a dip from Derek Fisher. He didn't exactly regress into his regular season self, but he didn't exactly impress us all by taking serious revenge against his former team. Granted, Brooks limited his minutes somewhat because the Lakers had bigger guards that could exploit him easily, but I expected more aggressiveness from a guy who was playing a team that traded him without a word. He wasn't able to take advantages of the Lakers' weak defense at the point guard position, and his defense against Ramon Sessions was atrocious.
Round 3 vs Spurs: B+
But this is the series where it was all forgiven. I don't really remember what he did most of the series. In fact, I kind of like to selectively forget what he was doing most of that series. His shooting continued to be down, he finished Game 3 with an 0-fer, and Tony Parker pretty much had his way when Fisher was given the unfortunate task of defending him. But during the final game, I finally got to be on the winning side of Derek Fisher's shenanigans. In Game 6, he hit a clutch three with four minutes to go, putting the team up by 5. The Spurs were within four with two minutes to go, when he took advantage of some open space on the wing and flipped it up for an easy mid-range bucket. The Thunder were up by 6, and never really looked back. It was his first decent shooting performance since Game 1, and he proved once again to be the Fish we all knew he could be.
Finals vs Heat: C
I don't really know what to make of Fish's finals performance. His best game was Game 5, but the points he made were totally irrelevant, as Miami was totally destroying OKC when he made them. Then again, he was a big part of the Game 1 win in Oklahoma City, hitting some clutch shots in the first half, when the Thunder were in a rut and down by double-digits. My favourite Fisher moment came during that run, with him going coast-to-coast and faking out Dwayne Wade in what J.A. Sherman described as an "old man move." Then again, he did allow Mario Chalmers to contribute more than he should have, and any time he got accidentally switched onto Wade it was a total disaster. But he did force a good number of steals. Eh, eh. C.
Most Memorable Game:
Western Conference Finals, Game 1. Derek Fisher proved his worth as an asset against the Spurs on this night. None of his plays were overly spectacular or dramatic, but he managed to quietly become the Thunder's fourth best scorer that night, replacing the struggling Ibaka. Though no one will remember his performance five years from now, the points he provided (particularly the 9 in the second quarter, depicted above), came at critical times, keeping the Thunder in the game when it looked like it was about to slip away. The last shot actually put the Thunder ahead going into the half. Heck, even Parker was mostly kept in check throughout the game, going 6-18 from the field.
What's disappointing, though, is how the game ended. After Fisher had put in two essential buckets at the end of the third and towards the end of the fourth, the team pretty much let the game slip away by getting jump shot heavy and turning the ball over. Fisher had an opportunity to turn it around with an attempted three with 22 seconds to go, but the team was already down by 7, and the miss didn't matter too much in the end. He finished with an amazing 6-8 shooting, 2 assists, and a steal in 23 minutes. But this game was a prime example of how Fisher can be quietly productive and still useful to your team.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
I know I already described Fisher's most famous moment above, but for me personally, the most shocking moment was just seeing Derek Fisher put on a Thunder uniform. I've been an NBA fan for most of my short life, and Derek Fisher has pretty much been in my NBA sights with the beginning. I remember playing with him in NBA Live '99 as a kid, and I remember him being the source of my many woes as a member of the Warriors. I also remember him leaving for the Jazz, and then stealing my heart in the playoffs. (If you can't tell, I'm a huge Warriors fan as well.) Then, he went back to the Lakers and tortured me ever more, as the franchise I came to hate the most won two more NBA Championships.
So to see the source of so much ire in my basketball life walk out onto the floor in Oklahoma City was borderline surreal. I've seen a lot of surrealish things in my time, like the Hornets' opening night, seeing historic franchises play in my home town, and being able to travel around the world and discuss where I'm from without even coming close to mentioning a bombing or a 60 year old play. But there was something special about seeing Fisher playing for Oklahoma City for the first time. For me, it was almost like completing a cycle. Of some sort. And for many other young OKC basketball fans who saw the Lakers, I'm sure it was pretty surreal too.
But, all of that aside, I still find it really hard to actually hate Derek Fisher. Sure, I wrote an article extensively bashing on the guy before he had even played 20 minutes for the team, and I'll always hate the guy who plays on the court. But after seeing what he's done and listening to him talk in person during the NBA Finals, I realize that he's one of the most intelligent and classy players to play the game. Those words are thrown around meaninglessly by writers these days, but I really mean it. The guy knows how to keep balling into his late 30's, despite having no physical attributes going for him. That speaks for itself.
Also, when he plays for successful team 'X' next season and rips out my heart again against the Warriors or Thunder, I reserve the right to throw salsa at the wall.
With the Thunder filling their final three roster spots, it's looking unlikely that we'll see Derek Fisher return next season. He was a great asset to have this season, but Fisher demands minutes wherever he goes, and it's unlikely that we could give him more than 10 minutes a game next season unless we bumped Cook or Maynor out of the rotation. Still, I expect him to keep trolling the NBA for at least two more seasons, and finish off his career with more rings than Kobe.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations
Other Player Grades: