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An evening with Derek Fisher

I've been riding Derek Fisher pretty hard lately.  I take no pleasure in continuing to point out the obvious flaws in his game.  It's not my idea of a good time to break down statistically how bad he is on both sides of the ball.  It's simply part of the job description.  In analyzing why this Los Angeles Lakers team is failing to live up to expectations, Derek Fisher is a key element.  Not the only element, or even the most important one.  But, the continued degradation of his skills is certainly playing a vital role in helping this team to appear mortal.

Or so I think.  But hey, I'm an open minded kind of guy.  So I've decided to give Derek a chance to prove me wrong.  Tonight, I give Fisher the chance to show me all of the "unseen" things he does to help the team.  Whenever Fisher is on the court, I will literally watch him the entire time.  I admit, I've given Fish a tough assignment, as tonight's game pairs him with the uber quick Aaron Brooks, who is no stranger to leaving Fisher in his dust.  But, lets see what intangibles the naked eye can spot when it's trying really hard to see them.

12:00 1st quarter - Fish properly initiates the offense, and throws a simple post entry pass to Pau who scores on the block.  He's off to a good start.  (How sad is it that said post entry pass could be a viable reason why Fisher is our best option at the point?)

11:16 - Lamar Odom loses the ball on the other side of the floor, and Fisher gets back on transition defense before it's even necessary, showing his focus.  The Rockets get a 3 on 2, but don't score because Fish challenges Luis Scola's jumpshot.  Derek Fisher might be a horrible defender in the half court, but he might also be one of the best transition defenders in the league.  There's nobody I'd rather have as the 1 in a 3-1 fast break.

10:56 - Fish takes his first shot of the game, as Pau passes the ball out and Kobe sets a screen that Fisher goes behind.  He takes a wide open 3 and misses.  Good shot vs. bad shot?  I'd say mediocre.

9:59 - Fish gets scored on for the first time.  Aaron Brooks gets a screen/handoff from Scola and drains a 3.  Fish tried to fight through the screen but didn't really challenge the shot at all.  No help from Scola's man.

9:16 - Fish gets screened behind Brooks, but stays with the play and avoids jumping for a Brooks pump fake, causing a desperation shot looking for a foul call which never comes.

8:58 - Fish flashes out for another jump shot.  This one was much less open, and I'd definitely categorize it as a bad shot.  But he drains it.

8:40 - Fish rebounds!

7:46 - Fish once again gets caught behind a screen as Brooks pulls up for an elbow jumper that goes in.  That said, Fish isn't giving up on any of these plays and actually contested that shot quite well.

6:57 - Fish gets absolutely cleaned out on a screen by Trevor Ariza.  Thanks for talking, Artest.  Fish ends up guarding Luis Scola while Brooks gets a layup against Pau.

6:38 - Fish with an atrocious pull-up 3 pointer with 20 seconds on the shot clock.  Which of course goes in.

6:29 - Brooks blows past Fisher without a screen for the first time on the night, but the Lakers recover to force a 3 from some guy I've never heard of.

5:27 - Fisher lays off Brooks coming down court, who pulls up for a 3 a foot behind the line and drains it.  Brooks already in double figures.

5:15 - Fisher exits the game, replaced by Jordan Farmar.

7:50 2nd quarter  - Fish returns.

7:15 - Fisher with the first WALIT (Weak/wild layup in transition) ... except he makes it.  He's really putting on a show for me tonight, but that was another bad shot.

6:10 - Caught behind the play on a fast break, Fisher rushes back to foul Chase Buddinger, preventing the easy two.

4:48 - Fisher helps Luis Scola off the ground.  Is anyone else amused by this?

4:01 - Fisher takes another quick shot, though this one is within the confines of the offense, and is wide open.  He bricks from 20 feet.  We'll call it a good shot.

3:21 - Completely within the offense, Kobe sets up Fisher for a wide open three in the corner, which he drains.  Good shot.

3:08 - Running around screens and chasing Aaron Brooks, Fisher actually falls down trying to keep up.  Brooks can't make the Lakers pay as Odom helps out.

1:53 - With the shot clock winding down for the Rockets, Aaron Brooks gets the ball at the elbow extended.  At this point you'd expect him to pick a direction and blow right by Fish.  He does just that, but Fisher beats him to the spot and plays great D, forcing a Brooks desperation heave with the wrong hand.

0:56 - After Fish and Pau both get lost trying to defend Brooks on a screen, Fish absolutely flies to the corner to close out on a three attempt by Trevor Ariza which misses.

0:28 - Another Kobe assisted, triangle apporved three pointer from Derek Fisher, this one from the top of the circle.  Good shot.

Halftime - Unofficially, Fisher might be having his best game of the season.  By my count, he's 5-7 for 13 points (second only to Pau Gasol) and was on the court as the Lakers closed out the half on a 20-2 run, keeping Aaron Brooks relatively in check during that time period.

10:24 3rd quarter - The ball swings over to Fisher with the Rockets scrambling on defense.  Scola chases Fisher off the 3 point line and Fisher goes into the paint.  He pulls up from 15 feet, but then dishes off to Pau Gasol on the block for an easy two.  Great play.

10:08 - Fisher gets worked on a back-door cut by Brooks, and there are no Lakers to help out on th weak side.  Brooks gets an easy layup.

8:53 - Fisher caroms off a Scola screen into Brooks, who falls down from the contact.  Fisher gets called for the foul.

8:35 - Fisher finds himself fighting for a rebound amongst the trees (insomuch as Chuck Hayes can be called a tree).  Fisher gets his hands on the ball but can't control as it goes out of bounds.

7:24 - Fisher strips Scola as Scola dribbles in his vicinity and the Lakers recover the ball.

7:07 - Fisher catches the ball in the corner, dribbles past a Pau Gasol screen and takes another bad pull up shot that's contested by Aaron  Brooks, but he can't miss tonight.

7:01 - A Brooks blow by results in Fisher being called for a blocking foul on Brooks' shot attempt

6:54 - Fisher attacks Aaron Brooks off the dribble, and gets rewarded with a blocking foul on Brooks.

5:56 - Fisher closes out well on a Brooks three point attempt from behind a screen.  Brooks misses.

5:36 - Fisher doubles Scola on the block who kicks out to a wide open Brooks for another 3, but he misses.  I don't like that double, but I guess that's more a problem with the coaches than it is with Fish.

4:59 - Fish called for a reach on Brooks, that's foul #4 and he's substituted for Farmar once again.

And that's it.  A surprisingly early end to the night for Fisher, as Phil Jackson decided either to rest his aging guards, or see what Farmar and Brown were capable of down the stretch.  Fisher missed the last 17 minutes of the game, but Bryant also missed the last 7.  The game was never really in doubt thanks to a 2nd quarter margin of 35-11, but it wasn't a true blow out either, so the lack of starting guards at the end was a mild surprise.

A couple of overall observations after spending a night watching Fisher's every move.

  • Obviously, if Fisher shot this well all the time, the entire point of my doing something like this wouldn't exist, so tonight was clearly an outlier.  I was less than thrilled with half of the shots that he took (either because they were early in the shot clock, or contested, or both).  One was so-so.  Three were great.  Ironically, he made all 4 of the shots I take issue with.
  • Derek Fisher leads a pretty boring life on offense.  There are many possessions in which he never makes it past the top of the 3 pt line, and the rest of the time, he's making one cut to the corner, where he just waits for the ball.  All in all, I think he burns less calories on offense than I do screaming at his poor shot selection.
  • Obviously, Fisher is no great shakes on defense, but he certainly tries.  Fisher never gives up on the play, and always trails his man.  He also generally knows where his man is at all times off the ball.  This is in sharp contrast with what I saw out of Jordan Farmar when I applied the same treatment to him for a couple possessions.  Once Farmar is beaten, he doesn't work as hard to catch up, and off the ball Jordan gets lost much easier.  
  • Considering that I chose to do this on a night when Fisher was going up against one of his known foils, Aaron Brooks, I was expecting this to be much worse.  Brooks scored 26 points, but needed 22 shots to do it, and one never got the sense that he could just take Fisher at any time, a feeling we've all known in the past.  Fisher did a pretty good job on Brooks, all things considered, and there were a couple of possessions in which I was sure Fisher was about to get torched, but instead Fisher forced bad shots out of Brooks.

All in all, this confirms a lot of what I've been thinking about Fisher lately.  I know he seems like a huge defensive liability because quick guards can blow past him or create separation off a screen, and that's all true.  But his court awareness and general desire to fight and stay with the play even after getting beat(helllooooooo intangibles) mean that when the Laker bigs help him out, the Lakers are less often punished for it because he's still working as part of the team defensive structure.  The only time Fisher is a huge liability on defense is when the Lakers match up with a quick guard who shoots well from the perimeter, because the bigs don't help well on the high screen and roll, so said quick guard gets whatever shot he wants from the outside.  Normally, I'd classify Brooks as just such a guard, but he struggled from the outside tonight.

Meanwhile, offensively, Fisher's shot selection still leaves a lot to be desired.  As I said before, if he were shooting this well every night, we wouldn't be classifying these shots as bad shots, but with an eFG at around 45% this season, that's definitely not the case.  He happened to be on tonight, but generally speaking, if he shoots the shots he took in this game, a more likely outcome would have been 2 or 3 of 8 and a big fist shaking from me.

In summation, everything I knew about Derek Fisher was right.

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