This is the tenth in our series of Player Previews, in which we discuss what to expect in the coming season from each of the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers. Up today is President Derek Fisher.
Mr. Intangibles. That's who Derek Fisher is. Realistically, it's both a compliment and a slight. The compliment is the respect he's earned as being a guy that has or does all the little things to help his team become champions. Things that can't be measured in a box score, or quantified on a stat sheet. Professionalism. Leadership. Resolve. Guts. Grit. Sacrifice. Scrappiness. Et cetera, et cetera. I could keep going, but I'm sure you get the point. Insert whatever pretty little adverb or adjective you can and it will apply to Derek Fisher's Intangibles.
Of course, the slight of such a compliment, typically, is that a player is given that tag when he isn't too good in some or many other areas. That is also Derek Fisher. He shot poorly last regular season. He has a tendency to jack up jumpers early in the shot clock. He's got to be the worst finisher in the NBA. He commits silly reach-in fouls with two seconds on the shot clock. At times, he makes you wonder if he's a wily vet or a green rookie struggling to earn minutes.
Then there are the well-documented problems he has with quick point guards. Granted, it's hard to guard any quick point guard in today's NBA, but marginal players have been made into All-Star candidates based on a Derek Fisher assignment (see Aaron Brooks). We watched as Brooks made a name for himself in 2009 going up against Fish, and we watched as Russell Westbrook got whatever he wanted against our captain. It was tough. Even I was begging to lay the old dog down.
But he makes fools out all of us.
The reason he makes us fools is that there are two more cliches that are always applied to Mr. Intangibles: "Heart of a Champion" and "clutch." Time and again, he plays plays tough defense when it's absolutely necessary. He has this uncanny skill of breaking up every fast break dared to be run on him. He takes the charge at the right moment. He'll even flatten your power forward.
But nothing beats the cold-blooded shots he's been making with such regularity that even Kobe Bryant looks pedestrian at times. The Clutchness of Derek Fisher is now legend. There's the Game Four-tying three against the Magic in 2009, then the dagger in that overtime, and the ridiculous Game Three against the Celtics. You see, no matter how frustrated Derek Fisher might make us during the regular season, he's shining proof that when it gets down to the nitty gritty, he's one of the few that can rise up to the challenge and fulfill all of the corny cliches we throw around too often. You think LeBron may have given some thought to watching Fish beast the Celtics before making a "Decision" to make Mo Williams contemplate retirement?
There are intangibles that can't be measured by formulas and advanced metrics, and "Mo Gotti" proved that to us, as we watched him fold, on national TV, to the weight of the playoff pressure on LeBron. Derek Fisher might shoot 10%, but it will be that one made shot out ten that will tie the game up. And everyone knows it. The team knows. The fans know. Even opponents know. Intangibles are why Pat Riley tried to take our captain from us, and why Lakers management - despite really wanting to keep salaries down - decided to give our 35-year-old President three more years. The Lakers couldn't risk Derek taking his talents to "Souf Beach" and teaching LeBron and 'em how to become true champions.
Role on the Team: He's the President, a captain, and the good cop to Kobe's bad cop. A guy whom both Kobe and Phil trust to the nth degree. So much so that he should remain the starting point guard, barring injury. Even though he's one of the NBA's iron men, his minutes will probably decrease during the regular season due to age, and with the addition of a suitable backup in Steve Blake. His role should stay the same, though. Start games and most likely finish them when it matters, make us call for blood during the regular season, but lead the team in "intangibles" all the way.
Best-Case Scenario for the Upcoming Season: He regains his shooting form and keeps his clutchness in the playoffs. The defense is what it is. The 2009-2010 season was pretty much a dropoff in shooting from his career norms. It can be taken either one of two ways. Either his age is catching up with him, or it was an aberration.
Take a look at his stats on his ESPN.com Player Page. You'll notice that he's been fairly consistent throughout most of his career. He's basically the same guy now that he was in his first stint with the Lakers, including the defensive problems with quick or athletic point guards. One positive for those thinking last years' shooting woes were just an off-year, is that he shot considerably better in the Playoffs. His shooting percentages went from 38% from the field, 34.8% on threes and 7.3 points per game during the regular season to 44.8% from the field, 36% from threes and 10.3 points per game during the playoffs. We'll soon find out which one he has in store for us.
Worst-Case Scenario for His Season: Last year's regular season frustration continues into the playoffs, without the superclutch intangibles. We all know we'll be frustrated during the the 82-game grind. So we're going to have to wait until playoff time to see if this worst-case scenario happens.
What We Expect: For Fish to shoot slightly better than last year, make us hate him at times, then make us love him all over again come time for the Three-peat. I promised myself during these past playoffs to never question or bash Derek Fisher ever again. I will hold myself to that. He and the Lakers (along with the Celtics) proved that what happens in the regular season doesn't matter so much. It's in those four playoffs series that true champions shine through. So enjoy the ride and keep your cool. I'm expecting the same ole Fish. He might be a little late getting there, but the President always shows up on time.
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