Lakers guard Derek Fisher begins the season with highly efficient play
Time and time again, there appeared Fisher, forcing himself into the passing lanes, deflecting passes and even making steals.
Time and time again, there appeared Fisher, leading fast breaks, finishing layups and throwing alley-oop lobs.
You read this in April, May or June and you conclude there goes Fisher, proving once again his playoff clutchness. But you're reading this in late November, when Fisher is usually struggling to defend young point guards, fighting an inconsistent shooting stroke and justifying to a forgetful fan-base how his locker-room standing and experience have brought plenty of Lakers championship banners and parades.
Instead, Fisher enters the Lakers' (12-2) Tuesday night contest against the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center shooting 47.2% from the field and 58.6% from three-point range, and averaging 1.5 steals per game. To put that into perspective, Fisher's field-goal and three-point field-goal percentage mark the 14-year veteran's career highs, and the number of steals represents the highest mark in that category since he was with the Golden State Warriors in the 2005-06 season.
I had argued dating back to last season that Fisher's value shouldn't be measured solely by statistics. They shouldn't apply here either, especially with the Lakers playing only 14 games. Still, there has to be an explanation beyond hot shooting nights and lucky defensive stands that account for the uptick in production.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom pointed to Fisher's preparation. But when doesn't he put in the work? Lakers Coach Phil Jackson looked at Fisher's ability to hit a flurry of late-game shots after attempting few field goals through three quarters. But that really only applies this season to the Lakers' 112-100 victory over Sacramento on Nov. 3, when Fisher scored seven consecutive fourth-quarter points after entering the final period attempting only two field goals.
The reason appears deeper than that.
Part of it can be attributed to motivation now that he has a worthy backup in Steve Blake. But most of it is that the Lakers' sharp chemistry has enabled Fisher to feel more rhythm in his shots, to get enough rest to feel fresh and to know that his role will remain consistent.
"When I'm out there on the floor in the game, they're not really many surprises," Fisher said. "I feel like, offensively and defensively, I know what's coming and I know what to expect. It's allowing me to operate at a high level, efficiency-wise."
That doesn't mean Fisher hasn't experienced his typical struggles. After he allowed Houston guard Aaron Brooks to burn him with 20 points on six-of-12 shooting through three quarters in the season opener, Jackson benched Fisher in the fourth quarter in favor of Blake, who eventually hit the game-winning three-pointer. Fisher, like most of the team, still struggles communicating and switching on screen-and-rolls. And he's shot below 50% in eight of the last 14 games.
But there are other variables that have offset that. Fisher and Blake maintain a professional and respectful attitude toward one another, a relationship that appears to make each player operate with ease and without fearing they have to pad their stats. Fisher exemplified the blue-collar mentality he's exhibited all season in the Lakers' 108-103 victory against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 6 by making four steals, drawing two charges and using those hustle plays to spur his 11 points on four-of-seven shooting. And he's showcased his improvement from last season to this season in various areas, according to HoopData.com, including makes at the rim (39.5% to 58.3%), shots from within 10-15 feet (36.4% to 66.7%) and player efficiency rating (9.22, 11.9).
"Shooting streaks are something every player in the league goes through," Odom said. "Off and on. Off and on. Off and on. He works at his shot, and it's effortless. And it looks good."
Whether that high mark continues through the course of the season remains to be seen. But for now, Fisher's laying the right foundation to make that happen.
"He's a guy who doesn't feel the need to have to score," Jackson said. "He'll set up the team. He'll do the teamwork. But when it comes time to make a big impact, he's ready to do it. He gets himself set so he can do that."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Derek Fisher takes a shot during the first quarter of the Lakers' 118-107 victory over the host Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 16. Credit: Jeff Hanisch / US Presswire