On March 29 in Minneapolis, in the first half against the Wolves, Derek Fisher missed a 20th consecutive shot. No, not in that game, but over a span of seven. He joined the Thunder for a second time on Feb. 27, and after that 20th miss, he was just 16-51 from the floor. That’s 31.3 percent. He was playing about 14 minutes a night, flying in the face of sound reasoning, it seemed.
Fisher finished the regular season shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent from 3 in 24 games with the Thunder. He played 14.4 minutes a game. And with him playing shooting guard, which resulted in him defending other shooting guards, everyone outside of Scott Brooks was left scratching their heads as to why the 38-year-old guard was on the floor.
Brooks’ only answers included things that don’t have anything to do with actual basketball. Leadership, experience, rings, Brooks would say in defense of Fisher. It seemed like either someone was taking crazy pills, or Fisher had used his Veteran Leadership Jedi mind tricks on Brooks.
But Brooks, as he tends to do, stuck with his guy. He stayed loyal, he believed in him. And in the face of everyone — especially me — Fisher has been one of the Thunder’s most valuable playoff performers so far.
So far in the postseason, Fisher is 15-26 from 3. That’s 57.7 percent. Since Russell Westbrook’s injury, Fisher is playing 26.4 minutes, shooting 50.0 percent, and is averaging 9.6 points. When Fisher is on the floor (post-Westbrook), the Thunder have a net rating of 27.0. That’s a 112.5 offensive rating, and a 85.5 defensive rating, per NBA Stats. For the full postseason, with Fisher off, OKC has a 103.2 offensive rating and a 110.0 defensive rating. That’s a -6.8 net.
And it hasn’t just been the timely shooting, or the stats. In Game 6 against Houston, Fisher — yes, Derek Fisher — completely locked up James Harden. In Game 1 against Memphis, he did quality work defending Mike Conley, and made the play that made the play of the game possible, poking the ball from behind on Conley. Those little things, Scott Brooks always talks about.
“Missing however many shots in a row, or making however many shots in a row, it all kind of balances out,” Fisher said after Game 1. “But that’s why you continue to come early before practice and work on things, you stay late after practice and work on things. You don’t rely on just that one facet of your game to make a contribution. So for me, that’s where I draw confidence from, is whether the shot is going in or not, I know there are so many other things I do that help the team that I’m not hung up on whether or not the shot is going in. And when they do, it’s just a plus.”
All those things that seemed so silly back in March like “he’s a winner,” “he knows how to win,” “he has experience” and “he makes plays,” all make a lot more sense now. Fisher has a knack for things. Whether it’s a heady defensive play, or a big shot, he has an uncanny ability.
Last night when I was waiting for Fisher to get dressed postgame, I really considered making my first question, “Derek, I was completely wrong about you and I apologize. I have no question.” I ragged on him a lot, but the old veteran is getting it done. At this point, you have to start wondering if OKC should re-sign him this offseason to a five-year, $40 million deal. I’m kidding about that. I think.
“I think my time here has always been just a joy, every single day,” Fisher said. “My role is different than it’s been over the years, so when I’m in the game I’m literally doing whatever I can to help the team win. I’m not going to get a lot of shots, sometimes I’m not going to get a lot of minutes. But there are a lot of things I know I can do to help this team win. That’s what I’m here for. And even on the days I’m 0-4 and it looks like things aren’t going well, I’m still just excited about being a part of this particular team, because even on those days I’m still doing something that can help us win.”
I was really outspoken about the insanity of playing Fisher in the regular season, especially in consideration over guys like Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins, or Ronnie Brewer. Fisher was cutting into the minutes of Reggie Jackson, and even Kevin Martin. Not to be captain stubbornpants, but I still stand by Fisher’s regular season playing time being mostly dumb.
Any time Fisher does something good, there’s this rush of people that can’t wait to tweet or email me gloating about it. Nobody is happier to see Fisher contributing than me. Truly. He’s been nothing short of terrific in the postseason and Scott Brooks has been proven correct to play him, and emphatically so. After last night’s game, I kind of thought Scotty might come strutting into the press room like President Obama the night Bin Laden was killed.
But, I still stand by the fact that minutes for him at those times earlier in the regular season really made no sense, at least at the time. It’s that now, circumstances have changed and Fisher, to his credit, has stepped up. Which if you remember, is exactly why I thought signing him was a good thing! In case of emergency, you’ve got a great playoff tested veteran.
But having Fisher as a break-in-case-of-emergency is a very wise decision. Smart player with tons of experience. Knows the system, knows the team, knows his role. He’s hit big shots, played big minutes and isn’t going to rattle if you’ve got to toss him into a big game because of foul trouble or an injury.
See, I was right! (But also, mostly wrong.)
“That’s why I work so hard every day to make sure I’m prepared just in case something happens,” Fisher said last night. “We’ve had a very unfortunate situation with Russell now being out so the work that was put in to be prepared just in case is just playing out the way it should.”
The situation with Fisher is completely different now. He’s in a position where the Thunder are exceptionally thin in the backcourt, and desperately need him. And he’s performing wonderfully. What Brooks does deserve a lot of credit for is having Fisher prepared for these moments. By playing him in the regular season — against seemingly all common sense — Fisher is in shape, and has found his rhythm. If Fisher was on the end of the bench for those 24 games and played sparingly, maybe he’s not fully prepared for this heavier tilt of minutes.
The Thunder don’t get through the opening round against the Rockets without Fisher. And they probably don’t win Game 1 against the Grizzlies either. He’s been called to arms without Russell Westbrook, and he’s stepped up. He’s been fantastic.
Derek Fisher: Not the hero Oklahoma City deserves, but the one it needs right now.