If you ask a group of friends what the weak point of the Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup is, the answer will invariably come back Derek Fisher — unless, of course, you count Ron Artest’s three-point shot.
After all, at this point in his career, his offensive repertoire consists of little more than wide-open spot-up jump shots. On defense, he’s essentially spent. While he is scrappy and has reasonable strength, his lateral quickness is all but evaporated, and he cannot stay with quick opposing point guards at all. He’s the one flaw of a very strong defensive front.
But despite his reputation as an over-the-hill minor contributor, Derek Fisher has come up bigger than anyone could have expected or wanted so far in the team’s conference finals matchup against the Phoenix Suns.
Coming in, one of the primary concerns for Lakers fans was how he would even hope to counter Steve Nash on defense. Nash is too quick, everyone said. He’ll run rampant against D-Fish, everyone said.
Even facing appreciable physical disadvantages when compared to his Phoenix counterpart, Fisher has managed to keep Nash in check to a reasonable degree. In Game 1, Nash posted 13 points and 13 assists but committed four turnovers and didn’t hit a three-pointer. In Game 2, he contributed 11 points and 15 assists, but gave the ball away five times.
Surely Fisher’s reasonable defense on Nash doesn’t come from some heavenly reacquisition of quickness. Instead, he’s using what he has to the best of his ability. He has been particularly aggressive fighting through screens, never settling to go underneath the pick. And that is a major reason Nash hasn’t been able to find the range from deep in the series.
Furthermore, his hands and feet are always active. He is constantly knocking balls away with well-placed fingers and closing off Nash’s pick-and-roll passing lanes to Amar’e Stoudemire and the other Suns.
Fisher’s contributions to the Lakers don’t just come through his defensive presence, though.
Fisher is one of the most experienced players on the team, and many of his teammates see him as a key leader alongside Kobe Bryant. He certainly has a strong passion and fire for the game, and his leadership seems to have quite an effect on the rest of the Lakers.
Moreover, Fisher is always ready to hit the big shot. It seems like every time I see him heave the ball in a late-game clutch situation the ball hits the bottom of the net following a smooth, lazy, high-arching delivery. As he lacks the athleticism to put up big points or really run the offense at his best from the point-guard position, his clutch shooting is at the crux of his viability.
As the series progresses, Fisher shouldn’t give up on trying to defend Nash. While it seems a foregone conclusion that LA will win the set and advance to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year, further refining his defense of a big-name point guard will hopefully prepare him for the even larger challenge at that position that awaits should Boston seal the deal.
The Boy Wonder, Rajon Rondo.