When you ask Scotty Brooks why Derek Fisher is playing, the Thunder coach will give you a lot of abstractions. Leadership, knowledge, experience. All things true.
But here’s the better question. What exactly does Fisher do on the court? What does he tangibly bring to the Thunder hardwood? We all can agree what he brings to the locker room and the bench. Everyone loves having Fish around. But sometimes you have to ask, can the guy still play?
Monday night in San Antonio, Brooks played Fisher 12 minutes, 17 seconds. That’s basically a full quarter, which in truth was the first half of the second quarter and the first half of the fourth quarter. During that time, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 35-14. That is not a misprint. Fisher’s futility was not the worst raw plus/minus in the box score. Kevin Martin was -22, in 20:28. Nick Collison was -24, in 16:44. But per-minute, Fisher was the worst and was about as worse as you can get. The Thunder was outscored 1.7 points per minute with Fisher on the court. Collison 1.4. Martin 1.1.
Plus, we know Collison can play. Things usually get better when he’s on the court. Martin, we know is a valuable scorer. He’s no James Harden, but he’s handy to have around.
Fisher, exactly what does he do? He’s not really a point guard anymore. Wasn’t last season for the Thunder. Isn’t this season for the Thunder. Offensively, he’s a standstill shooter, and he’s not bad. Six of 15 on 3-pointers with the Thunder so far. But it’s a legitimate question of whether he can guard anyone anymore.
Fisher was on the court for 7:50 of the second quarter. During that time, the Spurs made nine of 10 shots and all three of their foul shots. The Spurs were 6-of-6 against Kevin Durant and the B Team — Fisher, Collison, Reggie Jackson and Martin. Then Collison and Jackson came out, and the Spurs made three of their next four. With Fisher on the court, the Thunder’s 32-22 lead became a 46-44 deficit.
Fisher was on the court for 4:27 of the fourth quarter, during which the Spurs made four of seven shots and both of their foul shots. An 83-74 San Antonio lead became a 94-76 San Antonio lead.
So with Fisher on the court, the Spurs made 13 of 17 shots, all five of their foul shots, committed four turnovers and scored 35 points in 12:17. With Fisher on the bench, the Spurs made 30 of 65 shots and scored 70 points in 35:43.
Now, it’s silly to blame all this on Fisher. The Thunder played like junk. Russell Westbrook and Durant did not play well, and that’s a recipe for a Thunder loss every time. Brooks’ attempts to play small — which always are lauded — did not work, because Durant was abused inside, mostly by Tiago Splitter.
But it’s about time we asked again. Why exactly does Fisher do? On a second unit that already has a defensive liability in Martin, why compound the problem with another defensive liability?
Why not try Ronnie Brewer? Why not play an athletic, defensive whiz with a unit that otherwise is pedestrian on the wings? I mean, teams with any kind of bench at all has to be thrilled at the chance to play significant minutes against a unit that uses Kevin Martin and Derek Fisher as its perimeter defenders.
Brewer played 24 minutes a game last season for the Chicago Bulls, which had the NBA’s best record. He fell out of the rotation this season with the Knickerbockers, and he hasn’t worked himself into the rotation with the Thunder. In 18 days since the trade, Brewer has played just four games and 28 minutes.
But the Thunder likes to bill itself as a defensive-minded team. Let me tell you who’s a defensive-minded team. The Bulls. Do you want to make decisions like the Bulls or the Knicks?
Twice in 10 days, the Thunder has been pulverized by the opponents’ bench. March 1 in Denver, then Monday night in San Antonio. The Thunder B Team seemed hapless in both games. James Harden is gone. It’s pretty clear that the Thunder bench is not going to be an explosive unit. Why not try to stop somebody? Why not play Ronnie Brewer?