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No way to start a season
by Jason Levin / November 19, 2002

Fisher has played more minutes per game (32) than ever before in his career, yet in the first nine games of the season averaged just 6.4 points, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 rebounds, below his career averages in each category. To say his shot was off would be like saying the Democrats were pleased with the latest elections. He shot a pathetic 29% from the field, including just 6 of 28 three-point attempts, many of which were wide open looks thanks to timely dish-and-kicks from Kobe Bryant. For some perspective, Fisher twice hit seven three-pointers in one game last year, and drilled 35-68 from deep two years ago when it counted most, in the heat of the playoffs.

Thanks in large part to the terrible start by Fisher, the Lakers are 3-7, having wasted a ten game run by Bryant (31.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 6.4 apg, 2.2 spg) the likes of which the NBA hasn’t seen in years. With only rookie free-agent Jannero Pargo available to back Fisher up, Phil Jackson has had little choice but to leave Fisher on the floor to work his way out of this funk, and it has cost the Lakers dearly.

If Fisher had done anything at all, the Lakers would be at least 5-5, and maybe better. A player known for diving all over the floor, taking charges, drilling clutch threes and distributing the basketball, Fisher has been tentative shooting the ball, making poor decisions when he does drive to the hoop, and generally looking like he’s lost in the Bermuda triangle rather than calmly working the by now familiar angles of Tex Winter’s triangle offense. Rick Fox, Brian Shaw and Robert Horry are all dropping more dimes per game than D-Fish.

Without O’Neal’s presence in the paint, Fisher hasn’t been able to gamble as much on defense either, limiting his effectiveness on that end of the floor as well. Usually he can be counted on to wreak havoc on the opposition’s guards, overplaying the passing lanes, flicking the ball away and throwing his body all over the floor. Not this year. Fisher has played far more passively and that has left the six-footer vulnerable to scorers like Steve Francis, Jason Terry, Ricky Davis and Jason Richardson, all of whom have lit him up already this year.

Outside of the unflappable Bryant, the only other Laker to step up his game this year has been 36 year-old Brian Shaw, who has hit 15-33 from behind the arc and is averaging over 9 ppg in just 22 minutes. The rest of the “supporting cast” has been a disaster. Samaki Walker, Robert Horry, Devean George, Rick Fox and even newcomers Tracy Murray and Kareem Rush have all been missing in action right along with Fisher, leaving Bryant all alone with his talent, wondering why nobody else can put the ball in the hole.

Fisher has struggled before, and the self-made hard worker will find a way out of this hole, but ten games of damage has clearly been done. It’s still early, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already been ugly.

Jason Levin writes for the Basketball Digest and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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