In 1996, the Lakers famously traded Vlade Divac for the No. 13 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Kobe Bryant, who went on to have a storied, 20-year career in Los Angeles — highlighted by the five championships he won. However, Bryant wasn’t the only player the Lakers drafted in 1996 that helped them get back to their championship-winning ways — Derek Fisher, the No. 24 overall pick, played a pretty big role, too.
Fisher had a successful four-year college career at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, but he was a late first-round pick because of the perceived lack of upside with older players in the draft. Still, there were things to like about Fisher’s game: His strength at the point guard position, his ability to command a team and his 3-point shooting. In his four years at Little Rock, Fisher shot 38% from behind the arc on 6.4 attempts per game.
For the most part, scouts had a good idea of what type of player Fisher would be over his 17-year career, which was a role player — or a 3-point specialist, to be more specific. What they could have never guessed, though, is just how important of a role player he’d be for the Lakers, both on and off the court.
Fisher was a key part of the Lakers’ rotation by his second season, but it took him a few years to become a full-time starter because he was battling for minutes with Nick Van Exel, and then the Harpers, Derek and Ron (no, Derek and Ron aren’t brothers).
Fisher’s first real test as a starter came at the tail end of the 2000-01 season. He had missed the majority of the regular season with a foot injury, but when he returned the starting job was his to take because Ron Harper was sidelined with a long-term injury. Fisher did so well in the starting role that he stayed in the starting five when Harper returned, and Harper played just six games in the 2001 postseason. Meanwhile, Fisher started all 16 games and shot 51.5% from behind the arc in 68 attempts.
Fisher was great, but despite his solid production in the 2001 playoffs, Phil Jackson didn’t commit to him as a full-time starter the following season, either. It wasn’t until March that Jackson went to Fisher again, and, once again, Fisher was the Lakers’ starting point guard in the playoffs, where they won their third consecutive NBA title with Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant.
Like O’Neal, Fisher spent two more seasons with the Lakers, but unlike O’Neal, Fisher didn’t want to leave Los Angeles — in fact, he wanted a bigger role with the team, but the presence of Gary Payton made it hard for him to do that. As a result, Fisher opted out of the final two years of his contract when Payton opted into the final year of his. The irony of that saga is the fact that the Lakers traded Payton a month later.
After stops in Golden State and Utah, Fisher re-signed with the Lakers in 2007, and his second stint was even more memorable than his first. No, Fisher didn’t best his 0.4 game-winner against the San Antonio Spurs in 2004 with a 0.3 shot, nor was he the same young and speedy guard he was during the three-peat era. But, like he was in his younger days, Fisher was a reliable shooter, and he hit some of the biggest shots of the back-to-back era.
In 2009, the Lakers had a 2-1 series lead over the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals, but the Magic were close to tying the series in Game 4. With 10.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Magic led the Lakers 87-84, and it was L.A.’s ball out of the timeout. It’s unclear if Phil Jackson’s gameplan was for Fisher to take a contested 3-point jumper over Jameer Nelson, but it’s safe to say Jackson was happy with end result — a game-tying 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.
Fisher’s clutch 3-pointer took some air out of the arena, but not enough, as the Magic hung around in overtime, too. That wasn’t a problem, though, because when Fisher got the opportunity to drain another dagger 3-pointer, he did it — and this time, it was for the game.
For the 0.4 shot, Game 4 of the 2009 Finals, Game 4 of the 2010 Finals, and his leadership in the locker room, Fisher is a Laker worth appreciating.