Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Derek Fisher debate continues

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 16, 2013 at 11:50 pm •  Published: April 4, 2013

The Derek Fisher debate continues, and no better time than here on the day the Spurs come to town, for a a game that could decide the Western Conference’s top seed.

Reader Mark Aisenberg found some data that is really interesting. Here’s what Aisenberg wrote:

“When Kevin Durant plays the 4 (power forward) and the Thunder go small, the Thunder are very effective. Brooks is using Fisher ad nauseum in this lineup for some unknown reason.  Here is a look at the small ball lineup (one big, KD at the 4) with Fisher and without Fisher:

Situation                +/- per 48       total minutes

With Fisher          +8.6              111.3

Without Fisher    +16.2             522.9

“Before Fisher came to the team, Brooks was using the small ball lineup only about 14% (about 7:45 per game) of the time. But since Fisher joined the team, he’s used the lineup over 25%  (over 16 minutes per game) of the time with almost all of the extra minutes belonging to Fisher. I think most sane people would agree that the small ball lineup’s weakness is defense and rebounding, so adding a short, old guy who can’t defend or rebound should weaken the lineup to a degree.

“It is interesting to note that Ronnie Brewer and Jeremy Lamb have gotten ZERO minutes in the small ball lineup the entire year.  Brewer’s lack of a chance is especially frustrating because of his ability to guard multiple positions and that a small ball unit involving him seems like our best chance if we were able to match up with the Heat in the finals.”

That’s fascinating stuff. I stay with what I’ve said about Fisher. Most of what people say about him is not true. When Scotty Brooks raves about Fisher’s intangibles, he’s talking nonsense. But when people describe Fisher as a short, old guy who can’t defend, well, that’s not true, either. He’s short and old, but his defense isn’t awful. He’s not Thabo, but he’ll get in your way.

However, factoring in the small ball lineup is a different story. Play the small lineup, and different responsibilities arise. Aisenberg is exactly right. Go with a small lineup, and speed and quickness become your calling card. Play big, and someone like Derek Fisher isn’t that great a liability. Play small, and you need your smalls to be quick.

Forget the notion of big and small for a minute. Forget even matchups. The No. 1 reason the Thunder should play small, the primary benefit for playing small, is it gets your best players on the court at the same time. Last year, that meant Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha. This year, it means Durant, Westbrook, Kevin Martin and Thabo. Put those foursomes with any of the bigs — Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, though Perk clearly is the least effective — and you’ve got a lineup that causes problems for both teams, but has arguably your five best players on the court.

That’s the No. 1 reason the small ball lineup should exist.

And if Brooks wants to experiment with small ball, then Aisenberg is right. Don’t put in Fisher. Put in Ronnie Brewer. Take out Kevin Martin and play Brewer. Think about that lineup. Two scoring machines, two defensive dynamos and whoever you want in the middle, depending on the opposition. Wouldn’t that be an interesting lineup? Talk about defensive flexibility. Westbrook can guard two or three positions. Thabo can guard three or four. Durant can guard two or three. Brewer can guard three or four. If Ibaka or even Perkins is your big man, the Thunder literally could switch on every screen. The pick’n roll is wounded.

I don’t get it. I don’t get why Brooks hasn’t tried what could be quite a curveball lineup for a foe to deal with.

Here are a couple of other charts to study:

Guards in the small ball lineup with Durant at power forward:

Player            +/- per 48     total minutes

Westbrook       +18.0            436.9

Sefolosha        +16.8            353.6

Maynor            +16.8             48.7

Martin              +16.4            607.4

Jackson           +10.1            252.4

Fisher             +8.6               111.3

Liggins            +8.3               63.6

 

Small ball lineups broken down by the big:

Player        +/- per 48     Total minutes

Thabeet       +18.1               42.4

Collison        +17.3             327.4

Ibaka            +13.3             194.2

Perkins         +1.4                69.0

 

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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