In the offseason this year I wrote this. It was a column bashing Derek Fisher for his inability to make shots when it mattered anymore. I spent a fictional possession with him. It talked about how he would flop and take bad shots and how he was out of control when he went to the basket and a whole host of other bad things that I felt he did last year.
The column, while exaggerated in some parts, was what I believed. It was true to what I’d seen the couple years before. It was also premature. I thought Fisher was a shell of a basketball player, a corpse. He’s proven me wrong. This is my plateful of crow. It doesn’t taste that bad.
This year Fisher has been a revelation. He’s been a surprise, wrapped in a present, disguised as a gift, portraying a shot maker. He’s been fantastic. He’s been consistent. He’s been a difference maker. He’s made me yell at the Reggie Jackson on my television to stop forcing bad shots and get the ball to Fisher. Hell is a cold place now, I guess.
* * *
Fisher’s pretty easy to not like if he’s not on your team. Sometimes it’s easy to not like him even when he is. He flops. He does that laugh really hard when he gets whistled for a foul thing because the notion of him fouling is ridiculous to him. He makes a shot after missing a few and he runs and preens down the court with that no-big-deal face and pretends to get into a serious defensive stance like every guy in pickup that can’t guard but just made a shot and everyone’s cheering for him so he forgot about that for a second.
He basically lied his way out of Dallas in 2012-2013 and has been pretty unapologetic in his pursuit of another ring, refusing to play for anyone that didn’t resemble a contender. Some of the players around the league aren’t down with him because of the way he handled everything as the player rep during the lockout.
He’s not universally loved is what I’m saying. We’re not dealing with Johnny Carson here.
* * *
I tend to think intangibles get blown out of proportion. This fluff that fans are fed about locker room guys and veterans who have been there before and whatever else, it mainly sounds like nonsense or people protesting too much after they signed/gave minutes to a past their prime guy who didn’t do anything of value in the game. It’s ghost, in the air but you can’t see it type stuff that you just sort of have to trust is there, no matter how much the locker room guy might be getting torched on the court. And for too many years here Brooks has fallen in love with giving Fisher way too many minutes.
This year, though, Fisher’s done something with his burn.
He’s made timely shots that few on the team outside Durant and Westbrook would have had the stones to even think about attempting. He’ll take contested threes with guys up in his jersey, that ball catapulted out of his left hand, grazing the scoreboard, looking borderline smooth coming off. He’s been reborn this year. A guy who I’m alright with being out there to close games because, defensively speaking, the guy’s had a pulse, and he’s made timely shot after timely shot.
That Russ/Fish/Butler/Durant/Ibaka lineup that might be closing quite a few games, that’s a lineup that can stretch the floor and cause some serious problems for defenses that can’t get to shooters. It might not work against certain teams with offensively capable centers, but if matchups dictate that small ball must be played — GSW, LAC, PHO — that’s a line that can do damage. And thus far this season, you can make a strong argument that Fisher has earned his place there.
* * *
Scotty’s not falling out of love with Fisher anytime soon. He’s rode him the whole time leading up to this year with him playing poor basketball so it would stand to reason that the love would only grow stronger now that he’s making shots.
He’s a legitimate weapon now. One that he hasn’t been in some time. Durant and Russ drawing so much attention, Fisher’s figured out the joys of hanging out in the corners, waiting for one of them to play out of a double. He’s become dependable. This has been his best statistical season since 2009-2010 and it’s not really close.
He’s shooting 40% from three, good numbers for anyone, but scorching when you consider the ice that was coming off his hand last year — 33%.
His Per 36 numbers look like this:
11.3 PPG, 3.1 AST, 1.8 STL, 81% FT, 41% 2P%.
The field goal percentage leaves something to be desired but Fisher exists to take and make big threes. He’s not going to be bothered with someone nitpicking a less than stellar field goal percentage. His job is to make open shots, play solid defense, and (impossible to accurately judge alert) lead.
More than numbers, though, is the mindset that you approach a shot of his with now. Before, I was in the Royce camp. I’d shout “No” when he shot it and keep shouting “No” until it dropped through the net unharmed by the rim. Now, I’m half surprised when his cannonballs don’t go in. I expect him to make it. This is new. This is exciting.
And, yes, Father Time is a selfish dick and he’s never lost and there’s a chance that Fisher’ll fade come playoff time, but Fisher knows this is the end for him. Or, at the very least, that it’s close to the end. You don’t stay in the league for near two decades — 18 years — without having a good deal of pride, and you could talk me and my Thunder blue tinted glasses into thinking his pride won’t abide fading.
He’s made a career out of making shots that mattered at the biggest moments in the biggest games. Barring injury he’ll be playing crucial minutes in whatever big ones fill out the rest of this Thunder schedule and he’ll undoubtedly take at least a few shots that have the Thunder collective tight stomached and holding their breath. Last year I’d know for sure they weren’t falling. This year he’s given us few reasons to think they won’t. And like Chuck Taylors or Ray Bans or that jean jacket of yours, he’s reached vintage status. That stuff always comes back around.