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Thoughts on Derek Fisher's Third Run with the Oklahoma City Thunder

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Welcome back, ya old coot!

One more time....
One more time....

Welcome back, ya old coot!

In a sentence, those are my feelings about signing a 39 year old Derek Fisher onto this Oklahoma City Thunder squad for a third and possibly final time.

I know that a lot of you are angry. Confused. Disappointed. But really, at this point, do you expect anything else? I mean, the Thunder have had alternative options. In 2011, we played Fisher over Reggie Jackson and Royal Ivey. Last season, we played him over Ronnie Brewer, DeAndre Liggins, and Jeremy Lamb. This season, we might give him minutes over the same group of guys, minus Brewer.

The fact is, as long as Derek Fisher is willing to put on a basketball uniform, the Thunder are going to play him. To most basketball fans, it's an irrational move. But let me play devil's advocate here for a minute. Here's why Derek Fisher continues to get minutes....

  • He's Clutch. I know this reason is the most obvious of all, because he's going to be ultimately remembered as the Fish who saved LA with 0.4 seconds left. But Derek Fisher's clutchness extends beyond last second shots. When the game is on the line, this man knows how to play, on all ends of the floor. I can't tell you how many times he saved the Thunder's butts last year by drawing a critical charge, making a crucial pass, or hitting an absolutely essential shot. I mean, one glance at his stats from that playoff run tells the whole story: 9 points a game while shooting 46% from the floor and 47% from three.
  • He provides a cool head. Derek Fisher has consistently claimed that he has absolutely no interest in coaching, but his behavior on the floor speaks otherwise. If you ever get the chance, watch him in the huddles or on the bench. He's always there to give his teammates advice, and they're always willing to lend an ear. It's debatable how much of an effect this has, since there's no tangible way to measure it. But he has a definite effect on the team's usually wild demeanor, and that has to provide something positive.
  • He never plays beyond his means. Derek Fisher has been a role player for years, and he knows how to play like one. Basically, all he does is serve as a floor spacer and an occasional ball handler. Nothing more, nothing less. You'll very rarely see him take a bad shot, get caught in traffic, or lose the ball on a bad pass. A trait like this is underrated on a team of selfless guys like Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha, but it's the primary reason Fisher's career has been so long. It's also the reason why the careers of guys like Gilbert Arenas and Allen Iverson were so short.

Everything that I listed above was pretty intangible. Most of it can't be explained by statistics, diagrams, or facts. And if I would have read it two years ago, I would have probably called it a bunch of baloney. But after two solid seasons of the Derek Fisher experience, I can stand by these facts as firm advantages. I won't go so far as to say that they qualify him to play over other players on the Thunder roster (or even in the free agency pool), but I will say that his time on the court is justifiable. Even if I disagree with it.

Why do I disagree? Well, I've pretty thoroughly explained the disadvantages of Derek Fisher before, but here's the Readers' Digest version....

  • He performs poorly in the regular season. For some reason, he has a hard time warming up when only given spot minutes. I really can't explain why, but for every game that he was a net positive, there are about three more where he was a net negative. Part of it might be because he's an old man, and part of it might be because he's just a bad player. Regardless, he has, directly or indirectly, been responsible for some losses in the regular season. And that can really hurt you when it comes time for playoff seeding.
  • He can't play defense. Fisher is very good at drawing charges, but beyond that, his value is extremely limited. He's too slow laterally to keep up with most of today's point guards, and will lose them on their way to the rim. Furthermore, he's too small to play shooting guard, and won't have the height or lift to truly contest a lot of their shots.
  • He plays point guard, but he can't handle the ball. It would be nice if Derek Fisher could draw the defense or had good court vision. Unfortunately, Derek Fisher has never had either of those skills throughout the course of his career. He was always a scoring guard who had the luxury of playing with ball-dominating shooting guards, usually only ballhandling on very basic plays. Now, he's too old to be an offensive threat, so he just kind of serves as a small shooter.
  • He's no threat to score inside. This was true when he was young, but it's especially true now. He's limited by the fact that he's older and slower, and he just doesn't have much in the way of a floater. Furthermore, he's prone to missing layups if he's coming at the rim too fast, and doesn't have the speed to get into that situation in the first place.

So, where does Derek Fisher land on the Thunder's roster this season? The answer is more obvious than you might think. He'll likely be the backup shooting guard, getting around 10-15 minutes a game. Jeremy Lamb will soak up Kevin Martin's minutes, and Reggie Jackson will be given the same role. Fisher will also likely rest whenever anything resembles an injury some up. He played all 82 games two seasons ago, but the Thunder are notoriously precautionary when it comes to injuries, so I could see him missing a good chunk of games. When he's sitting out, the Thunder will probably fill his role with spot minutes from DeAndre Liggins or give more minutes to a combination of Lamb, Jackson, and Sefolosha.

Can the Thunder still contend? With a 39 year old getting minutes? The short answer is yes. The key to the Thunder's success doesn't lie in Derek Fisher. On his own, he won't cost the Thunder very many critical games, and his weaknesses can certainly be covered up. Rather, the key lies in how well Jeremy Lamb can develop. If he can morph into a ball-dominating scoring guard that creates for other players and takes the pressure off of Reggie Jackson, then the Thunder are good as gold. If not, then it's really anybody's guess.

Is this all a cruel joke? Kind of. The Thunder really had no money to sign players with this off-season, so they couldn't grab affordable scoring options like Dorell Wright. But, even then, better options were out there. Dwight Buycks impressed us all in the Summer League, and possessed the ability to be a great passing guard alongside Reggie Jackson. But he signed with Toronto. Mike Miller was willing to sign for the minimum, but he went to the weaker Grizzlies. Journeymen like Beno Udrih, Mo Williams, Marquis Daniels, Alan Anderson, and Gerald Henderson are still available. All of them are better players than Fisher at this point in their careers, and all of them could represent missed opportunities.

But when it really comes down to it, when there's 5 minutes to go in Game 7 of the 2014 NBA Finals, there's only one player I want sandwiched between Durant and Westbrook at the shooting guard spot. And his name is Derek Lamar Fisher.

What do you think of the Derek Fisher signing? Let us know in the comments!