The Thunder won their 40th game of the season last night when they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-97. OKC is the first team to 40 wins this season as they currently hold the best record in the NBA at 40-11.
The Thunder have been right up near the top of the standings for the past three seasons. What makes this a bit more interesting is the criticism that has consistently followed the Thunder and Scott Brooks when it comes to the distribution of minutes for certain players.
We all know about Kendrick Perkins and how stats just don’t back up how much he plays. But this article isn’t about Perkins.
The other Thunder player that is commonly brought up as playing too much is Derek Fisher.
When Fisher first came to the Thunder back in 2012, he immediately took over the backup point guard role from the then rookie Reggie Jackson.
Fisher was brought back to OKC last season and he essentially played as the Thunder’s backup two-guard, instead of rookie Jeremy Lamb.
Jackson and Lamb have both become key parts of the Thunder’s rotation this season, but Fisher also remains in the mix.
Since Russell Westbrook has been out, the minutes for Fisher have not really been questioned. It is fine for him to be getting backup point guard minutes behind Jackson when there is no other option.
What will be interesting is how Brooks juggles the minutes when Westbrook returns. Brooks’ love for Fisher, and the veteran guard’s strong play of late may result in Fish getting burn instead of Jackson and Lamb in some instances.
In the month of January, Fisher shot 42.9 percent from three while attempting 3.7 per game. He averaged 19.6 minutes per game and scored 7.1 points and dished out 1.9 assists per game.
Fisher scored in double-figures five times in the month, including his memorable 15-point performance with five triples at Miami on Jan. 29. Last night, Fisher scored 13 points and made three three-pointers. In three games in February, Fisher is shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.
We know that when Fisher is on the floor, he is going to fearlessly jack up three-pointers from time to time. It’s his role on this team. When those shots are going in, like they have been of late, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Fisher being on the floor. But Fisher will continue to shoot those same shots even if he is not making them as frequently. When that’s the case, and when you also account for his declining defense, it feels like it can be a problem when he is on the floor.
Overall this season, Fisher has been solid for the Thunder. With him on the floor, the offense scores 1.6 more points per 100 possessions. The defense is better too, allowing 2.1 less points per 100 possessions.
As mentioned before above, Fisher can be valuable as a spot-up shooter when he is knocking down shots. Fisher is shooting 35.6 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers this season. Interestingly, Fisher is knocking down 41.9 percent of his pull-up jump shots and pull-up three-point shots, a very good mark.
Brooks rolled out an interesting lineup somewhat frequently when Westbrook was healthy. It was essentially a three point guard look with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. That lineup played together for 35 minutes and actually was pretty good together, posting an offensive rating of 111.0 and defensive rating of 106.2.
Why is this lineup’s performance relevant? Because it is one that Brooks could potentially use to close out games. The Thunder often close out games with small lineups and this “ultra” small one will be an option for Brooks considering his love for Fisher.
It’s a small sample size but Thunder fans shouldn’t be too worried when they see this lineup on the floor. But Thunder fans would probably prefer to see the lineup tweaked with Lamb inserted for Fisher.
Those five players (with Lamb in for Fisher) have played together 29 minutes this season and have not been very good. The offensive rating for that group is 106.6 and the defensive rating was 108.0. Lamb has struggled on the defensive end some this season, but he has been more potent offensively as the season has gone on since Westbrook has been out. The potential for this lineup when Westbrook returns should be higher.
I think what it will come down to after Westbrook returns is Brooks essentially taking away minutes from lamb to give to Fisher. Jackson’s minutes should be safe, although there were times this season that Fisher played over him. Perry Jones will likely be eliminated from the rotation, but his strong performances against certain matchups may allow him to get run from time to time.
If Fisher can continue to shoot the ball well, the Thunder won’t lose much while he’s on the floor. But what has always made the Thunder title contenders is that they can put on the floor five guys that can impose their will over their opponents via superb athleticism. When Fisher or Perkins is on the floor, that advantage becomes less so.
Brooks trusts Fisher with his life. Brooks is starting to trust Lamb more and more, but maybe not enough yet to warrant him crunch time minutes ahead of Fisher.
Fisher’s strong play of late has been great to keep the Thunder at the top of the standings. OKC was surely in need of players stepping up while Westbrook has been out and Fisher has done so. But in the long run, Fisher may have earned more playoff minutes than he would have previously gotten. He may have taken away future minutes from Lamb.
In the right matchup and with Fisher shooting well, that won’t be a problem. But let’s not fool ourselves. The ceiling for the Thunder with Lamb on the floor at the two or three position is much higher than when it’s Fisher. To win a championship, you usually need to play to your ceiling. Fisher could keep the Thunder from that and it may be costly.