It was an interesting season for the NBA’s oldest player as he tried to secure himself a sixth NBA title. Derek Fisher played with plenty of passion and provided the Thunder with some big time shots, poise and veteran leadership which no doubt helped OKC go deep into the playoffs. Now we all know that Fisher will retire and has taken up the head coaching role with the New York Knicks, but let’s take a look back at his season and focus on his transition from the hardwood to the whiteboard.
Offensive Grade: B
As a veteran role player, Derek Fisher didn’t need to do a great deal on offense. His role was to lead the reserve unit with some maturity and veteran smarts and he did just that. Fisher made a career out of moving the basketball and making the right play – as well as hitting some big shots. This is essentially what he provided the Thunder in all 81 games he played. In just under 18 minutes of action a night, he passed the ball, found the open man and tried to make the right play and hit his shots when required. Fisher shot a fairly poor percentage this season and struggled at times to hit even simple shots, but he was always a threat. His final season was far from poor, but his departure should see more minutes and opportunities for others.
Key for improvement – there won’t be much required from Fisher on the offensive side of the ball on the court, but plenty will be asked of him as a rookie head coach. While we are not even sure the pieces Fisher will have at his disposal just yet, he will be asked to turnaround a team that struggled to reach the expected heights. Some will see Fish as a Phil Jackson protege which means we might see elements of the triangle offense in his coaching strategies – depending on personnel. If Carmelo Anthony returns, he has one of the games best offensive weapons at his disposal – but that is not a sure thing.
Defensive Grade: B
Fisher was a lock down kind of guy. He worked extremely hard to stay fit and focused and his ability to really bully opposition guards was handy. He still showed a crafty knack for disrupting the ball handler and for getting into the passing lanes. His foot speed waned and he wasn’t as athletic as previous years (which – let’s face it – happens when you are 39 years old) but he still managed to be effective in spurts. Fisher was far from the team’s worst defender and he showed great focus and intensity on that end of the floor.
Keys for improvement – from a rough and rugged career as a defender on the floor to taking over the reins of a unit not very well known for its defensive intensity – something’s gotta give. Smart money is on Fisher being able to really earn the respect of the playing group and getting them to by into his defensive philosophy. Does he have the talent and players on the roster to turn it around? Time will tell and something suggests the Knicks might look slightly different come training camp.
Poise, leadership and work ethic. These were the three key facets of Fisher’s time in a Thunder jersey. As his body started to slow down (a lot later than most people pushing 40!) he couldn’t bring the same athleticism, so he found a way to still be relevant and contribute. There is no doubting that with the loss of Fisher they lose more than just 17 minutes of role playing action per night. Fisher brought some toughness and leadership to a young backcourt that needed it. That has to be a large part of the reason coach Scott Brooks played Fisher so many minutes and ahead of some of the younger talent on the roster.
Keys for improvement – it seems to be the “new way”. Bringing in a former player as a head coach so they “relate” to the playing group. We saw it with Jeff Hornacek, Jason Kidd and now with Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher. Fisher was a leader on the court over his 19 year career and will be a very good leader from the sidelines. He is easy to relate to, very astute and he will earn the respect of the players fairly quickly. He is a winner and is paired up with the Zen master behind those victories which cannot be overlooked. Plenty of intangibles here which is largely why he got the nod for the main role in NY.
Overall Grade: B
The final score is probably an accurate summation of what Fisher was brought in to do and what he accomplished in his role. While the Thunder probably felt they could have gotten more from him on the floor (and Thunder fans probably thought Brooks played him too much at the expense of younger talent like Jeremy Lamb) Fisher did pretty much what he needed to and what he was able to. He got the very best out of himself and no doubt he helped this young team develop and mature – those are benefits we will see long after he has left the locker room.