Jun 2, 2009

Player Profile: Derek Fisher

Derek Fisher doesn't get much publicity. He's rarely asked to take the podium for postgame interviews, hasn't had his name etched into the Hollywood walk of fame, and his house hasn't been featured on "Cribs." On the national scene, Fisher is just "that" guy, capable of keeping a job but incapable of selling jerseys. Even amongst the NBA's most diehard of fans, I'd be willing to bet most couldn't name Fisher's alma mater. Fisher probably runs errands at local strip malls without getting much attention.

D-Fish's lack of notoriety is quite remarkable, all things considered. After all, he is the starting point guard for the team favored to win the NBA Championship. He has won three titles. His miraculous shot against San Antonio in '04 did salvage L.A.'s chances at a four-peat. He has earned the trust and confidence of the most skeptical and condescending superstar in pro sports (Kobe). Phil Jackson did draw up the last shot of Game 2 against the Nuggets for him (not Kobe). He has made the most of his abilities. He does leave it on the court every night. He did skip a critical playoff game to tend to his ailing daughter. He does play the game the right way. But to most of us, none of that matters.

Overshadowed in the city of angels by the brighter stars of Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Phil, Jerry, and Jack, Fisher just goes about his business. He comes in early and stays late. He studies film to the point that mental lapses are a rarity. He prefers the standard chest back rather than going behind the back. And for these throwback tendencies, Derek Fisher might be the least sexy player in the entire NBA (and the least sexy to write a blog about, for that matter). And to most of us, that does matter.

My guess is that Derek Fisher could care less about what matters to us, though. His approach has always been substance over form. In a league of Hummers, Benzes, and Beamers, Derek Fisher is a Ford Taurus. Low maintenance, limited features, consistent performance. Consistency equates to boredom in the eyes of most NBA beholders. Derek Fisher's game is not aesthetically-pleasing and his stats are not spectacular. We know Fisher is good for 12 points, 5 assists, and a clutch jumper. We seldom like what we know.

I find this to be an unfortunate reminder of what the NBA has become for us fans. Overachievers aren't exalted like they once were. We favor the high risk, high reward guys over the guys who seemingly do more with less. NBA GM's see it the same way. Why else would Tyrus Thomas be chosen ahead of Brandon Roy in the draft? As fans or as executives, we're willing to take the risk that an inconsistent or underdeveloped player will be a bust if there is a glimmer of hope he could become a superstar. We don't pack the house for Fisher's 12 and 5, we pack the house for Greg Oden's 20 and 10, or Greg Oden's 4 and 2. We pack the house for Ron Artest's ejection and we pack the house for Chris Anderson's arm flaps and we'll pack the house for Ricky Rubio's seven turnovers.

These days, Derek Fisher is playing blue-collar ball in a sport that is no longer blue-collar. He is relying on wits and experience to hedge against his painfully obvious physical decline. But while he has failed to successfully chase the younger point guards in these playoffs, he has remained a professional. Despite his decay, he hasn't gone Scottie Pippen on us by turning into a crotchety old man, unwilling to let go. And for these reasons, we choose to neither praise him nor ridicule him. To slander the 2009 Derek Fisher would be nearly as sacrilegious for a basketball fan as it would be to love his game.

When the Staples lights come on Thursday night, we will tune in to the broadcast and tune out Fisher's game. We will watch intently for Dwight Howard's foul count, Rashard Lewis' success rate from the three-point line, Stan Van Gundy's animated facial expressions, Kobe's preference between assassin or facilitator, Lamar Odom's level of effort, and the Lakers' persistence (or lack thereof) in getting the ball to Gasol in the post. Knowingly or not, we have already come to the conclusion that Derek Fisher will be neither great nor horrible. He is the epitome of afterthought, and as a Laker fan, I'm okay with that. I'm okay with it because I know that when those lights come on, Derek Fisher will be ready to play -- whether we're paying attention or not.


Sports Tsar said...

Fisher -> Fish Sticks -> Sticky

He's the glue guy.

KneeJerkNBA said...

Always loved Fish. He's still got heart even if his game is slipping a bit.