When most people think of the best role players in clutch situations, they usually think of Big Shot Rob, Robert Horry. Horry made his name making clutch shots in Houston, L.A., and in San Antonio. Although Rob is obviously the best clutch role player of all-time, his old teammate Derek Fisher might be a close second.
When someone speaks the name Derek Fisher, the word professional immediately comes to mind. He came in the league as a driving/slashing point guard, who hustled on defense and took a lot of charges, but eventually developed into a clutch pure shooting point guard that could always be counted on to come up HUGE in big game situations. Over the previous two seasons, many of you probably forgot how clutch of a player Derek Fisher is, as he hasn't had an opportunity to perform in the playoffs over that time. Since being traded to Utah, we've seen him perform at the same high level he did while a member of three Laker championship teams. If not for Fisher, Utah would definitely not be in the position they are now--on their way to reaching their first Western Conference Final since the Stockton/Malone era.
Although intially not a great shooter, he quickly realized that the best way for him to make a name for himself on the Shaq and Kobe led Lakers was to develop an outside shot. After spending the majority of the 2001 season on the injured list, Fisher came back with a new and improved three-point shot. Following the departure of sharp-shooter Glen Rice, the Lakers were struggling to find a person to fill his shoes. They were pretty much in disarray that entire season (with in fighting between Shaq and Kobe, of course) until Fisher came back from injury and re-energized the entire team with his enthusiasm, leadership, and new and improved long-range shot. Not many people talk about it, but if not for Fisher's return that season, the Lakers might not have won the championship that season. I mean, he absolutely torched the San Antonio Spurs (the best team record wise that season) with three-point barrages in the 2001 Western Conference Finals. Fisher continued his contributions during the Lakers 2002 championship run and their 2004 NBA Finals run (and eventual implosion). Fisher's Laker career climaxed with his miraculous game winning turn around jumpshot with .4 seconds left against their San Antonio Spurs (I guess Fish really likes killing the Spurs?).
Following the 2004 season (and the Lakers implosion in that year's NBA Finals), Fisher left the Lakers to play for the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers decided to pass on signing Fisher as they thought he was being offered too much money (a deal for the full mid-level exception, plus yearly raises over six seasons), and because they thought they were going in a new direction with Rudy T coming in to install an uptempo offense. Obviously now that the Lakers are back to running their triangle offense and in need of a point guard and veterans, they would probably do anything to have DFish back.
Now Derek is back in the playoff spotlight. He's the veteran leader of a young Utah Jazz squad, and as such, has stepped up his game during playoff time, nailing clutch threes and playing an inspiring brand of tough nosed ball. Ironically Fisher is unleashing his playoff offensive on the team that traded him this off-season, the Golden State Warriors. At this point, I'm sure Chris Mullin and co. wish they would have sent him to another team other than Utah.
The most impressive aspect of Derek's playoff run has been his ability to overcome his daughter's battle with cancer and still come with it each and every game. There's no one in America that would fault Derek Fisher for wanting to sit out the rest of the playoffs. Yet, anyone that expected him to do that doesn't really know Derek. He is what I like to call a true professional. Despite his own personal problems, he's not reveling in his own self pity. Instead he's going out there and being the consistent leader that he has always been.
Although I would love to see Golden State advance further in the playoffs, it's hard for me to route against Derek. I mean, how could I? How could anyone? In a world where the media loves to prop up stories that degrade players for every single off the court issue they have, I'm all for propping up a man like Derek Fisher...a true professional.
Previously at Fanhouse:
Playoff Revelations: Derek Fisher