Instant Trade Analysis: Derek Fisher to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder get: PG Derek Fisher
On the most feeble NBA trading deadline in recent memory, the Oklahoma City Thunder shipped off reserve guard Eric Maynor to Portland in a move that couldn’t be described as anything besides cost-cutting. Even as Maynor was getting DNP-CDs on a nightly basis, the Thunder still needed to add another back-up point guard to a now thin reserve corps.
Not surprisingly, OKC went with a known quality in regards to not only adding personnel, but also keeping together the team’s locker room chemistry. Today, the Thunder signed PG Derek Fisher to a prorated veteran’s minimum deal in order to obtain his services for the rest of the regular season.

Fish was last seen in the ‘Peake as a member of the Western Conference champions in June, signing as the Thunder’s back-up point guard after being traded by the Lakers to the Rockets and then getting waived just days later. At age 37, most figured that a trip to the Finals—even in a losing effort—would be enough to sate the five-time champion. Time wasn’t on his side, his skills were eroding and matters other than basketball seemed to be tugging at his leg. As NBA Player’s Union President, Fisher had been at the head of an investigation bearing down on NBAPA chief Billy Hunter for creating improprieties with the Union’s funds. At the risk of completely losing my audience, suffice to say that the case was complicated, controversial and most importantly time consuming.

Even in the midst of the inquiry, Fisher still attempted to continue his playing career, signing on with the guard-bereft Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs, settled in a quasi-rebuilding year, had cut the troubled Delonte West and watched Rodrigue Beaubois and Darren Collison struggle under coach Rick Carlisle. Being up against the cap with very little assets to trade, Dallas signed Fisher to fill the role of starting point guard. Surprisingly, the Prez played competantly, shooting 43.5% from downtown and scoring 8.6 ppg on 25 minutes a night.

Perhaps a reason for Fisher’s unexpected performance was the longevity, or lack thereof, of his stay. He only played 9 games in a Mavericks uniform, asking the team to waive him after a seemingly minor injury and nebulous family circumstances that he declined to elaborate on. The whole scene was strange, especially seeing as he was playing for a fantastic franchise with a solid coach that seemed dedicated to giving the veteran serious minutes. Perhaps it had to do with finally settling the Hunter investigation, which led to his ouster just last weekend during the All-Star game.

Regardless, Fisher is now a member of the Thunder again. But the the obvious questions are: why should anyone care? Will Fisher even play?

The answers are: no, obviously won’t people won’t care. He’s a 38 year-old player who got signed in the middle of the season for the minimum salary. But yes, the man will play.

As a Reggie Jackson career-long observer, there’s a lot that Reggie Jackson can do and will eventually develop into. However, long-range bombing is certainly not in his skill set.  Jackson is a penetrating, scoring guard in the mold of Tony Parker—if that mold was a slightly undersized cheap plastic facsimile without the women or pedigree of the real deal Holyfield. He can put the ball on the floor and use his speed and handle to his advantage, but just hasn’t worked on his three-point shot enough to make it a reliable weapon. This season as the now primary understudy to All-Star Russell Westbrook, Jackson rarely pops from the arc (just 1.2 a game) and hits it at an even rarer clip (.264 percent). The Thunder have a deadly second unit headed up by Kevin Martin and Nick Collison, but leaving Jackson out there with guys like Hasheem Thabeet limit an otherwise healthy amount of floor spacing in the starting unit down to the first guys off the bench.

Derek Fisher should be able to help in this regard. For all the Billy Hunter-esque holes in his resume, Fish looked solid in his short Dallas stint a couple months ago, reliably hitting a three-pointer and showing an ability to get to the rim and draw fouls in limited minutes. Theoretically, he should be able to provide more floor spacing the for the OKC second unit, as well as providing a little bit of the ball handling and penetrating that Jackson is currently giving. It behooves the nearly 40 year-old point that he’s played sparingly this season; with less than 30 games left in the Thunder’s schedule, and then presumably another 15-25 games in the postseason, Fisher might have just enough juice left to contribute meaningfully to try and grab his sixth title.

Don’t get me wrong—signing up Fish is just as much a romantic notion of grabbing “championship intangibles” as it is an actual basketball decision. Even at his peak, Derek was still a very flawed player. He was never a great defender, and has worsened with every graying hair/stubble patch on his head. Fisher also relies largely on his guile and intelligence to get contact at the rim and draw fouls, but as his athleticism has mostly left him at this point (though the guy is in impeccable physical shape; he could probably beat everyone’s ass on the Thunder, including Kendrick Perkins), it’s become more and more difficult for him to be a disruptive force in the lane offensively. Moreover, though his confidence in his game is one of the things that the Thunder undoubtedly love most about the veteran, it sometimes works against him; Lakers fans everywhere will remember and revile his penchant for taking transition threes at the worst possible time and failing to convert a bucket or attain penalty shots by driving to the rim on a 1 on 3 break.

More to the point, it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be able to outperform Reggie Jackson. Plainly, if Fisher doesn’t hit the three-ball, he won’t share or get time over Boston College’s last great/adequate men’s basketball export. GM Sam Presti brought him in because of his confidence, shooting ability and leadership that helped the Thunder so much last spring. I’m not sure he can give them that anymore. There’s really no downside to this signing seeing as it’s for the minimum and if Fisher doesn’t play well, he just won’t play at all.

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