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Phil's Laker Menu: Hunter or Fisher?
by Jon Finkel / March 23, 2002

Derek Fisher and Lindsey Hunter aren't two cuts of filet. They're Peter Luger's and A1. Condiments to the meat of the Lakers' team that can turn a savory but short postseason meal into a three-peat feast. When looking at each of them in a bottle, the initial reaction is that you can't go wrong. They are both built relatively the same way and play close to the same game on both sides of the floor. Both have established reputations as solid three point shooters. Both can score and both can dish when they have to. So, how does Coach Jackson pick which taste goes best with this team? Let's start with the tastebuds.

Derek Fisher is the flavor the Lakers are used to. Drafted out of Arkansas-Little Rock as the 24th pick in the first round of the '96 NBA draft, he is in his sixth year with the team. The one-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year saw his minutes steadily rise through his first four seasons, culminating in earning himself the starting point guard spot entering the '00-'01 NBA season.

Fish broke out as the starting point, logging over 35 minutes per, spotting up at near 40% from behind the arc and nearly doubling his scoring and assists average to 11.5 ppg and 4.4 apg He was a jaguar through the first quarter of last season, climbing the NBA tree, attacking his new position and other teams with quiet fury - when a limb literally broke during his ascent in the form of a stress fracture in his foot. He missed the remainder of the regular season.

It took around six months of rehabbing his injured foot to get back into playing form - or should we say, a new form named Playoff Fish. Playoff Fish was an improved version of the regular season cat that began to eat up the league at the start of the season. This new #2 wearing the purple and gold was draining threes at over a 50% clip, establishing an NBA postseason record for most treys made in a four-game series with 15 in the Western Conference Semifinals as his team rolled the Spurs on their way to repeating as World Champs. From Derek's standpoint, the '01-'02 season couldn't start fast enough. He was healthy and ready to continue Playoff Fish's game into next season- no such luck. He broke his foot again and was scheduled to miss at least the first month of the Lakers season.

So, during the offseason, the Lakers went bartering in the League grocery store for something different to complement their steak while their first choice healed. They found what they wanted in the Milwaukee aisle. After only having giving up a mild Greg Foster, they added Lindsey Hunter to their recipe for success.

Lindsey Hunter is a new sauce entirely, having played his entire career in the Eastern Conference. The Detroit Pistons chose Hunter as the 10th overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. As a rookie out of Jackson State, Hunter was expected to take over the point immediately, which he did, starting 26 games at the position in '93, averaging almost 5 assists and just over 10 points a night. His scoring average would rise over the years, but never again would he get average as many assists.

Instead of dishing bullets, he began shooting them, quickly gaining the reputation for being a sniper. A durable cold killer from downtown. In the 1999-200 season, Hunter's last year with Detroit, he started every game and played almost full minutes in all of them. More importantly, his three point percentage soared to 43%, 7th in the NBA, which added to his almost 13 ppg. It seemed as if he was becoming the heir apparent to Joe Dumars, nearly matching the veteran in scoring and three point shooting. In the offseason he was traded to Milwaukee for Billy Owens.

Lindsey got off to a fast start in Milwaukee, the pinnacle of which was the "Miami Miracle" game where he drained 5 threes in the fourth quarter to beat Miami. The feat prompted Coach Riley to call the Bucks' pick-up of Hunter the "trade of the season". Hunter cooled off after the first quarter of the season, however, and was mainly used off the bench. He averaged the least amount of playing time he had since his second season. He also struggled in the playoff's and saw his three point accuracy and overall field goal accuracy drop in half. When L.A. called, Milwaukee sent him packing.

Finally, the history catches up with the present. How have these men seasoned the Lakers' 2001-2002 season? Let's get some stats out of the way. Hunter has started 45 games this year and Fisher has started 22, despite missing most of October and most of November. Here's a quick comparison of their season per-game averages. Minutes: Fisher 27.1, Hunter 21.7 Points: Fisher 11, Hunter 6.3 Assists: Fisher 2.5, Hunter 1.8 Three Point %: Fisher .416, Hunter .387. That's how their individual stats compare on paper.

Looking at the above numbers, it seems that the Lakers' Mr. Miyagi, Sen-sei Jackson, would be foolish not to give Derek Fisher the starting nod. His numbers in the major categories are higher and he has that certainDaniel LaRusso factor of getting hurt, healing and coming back better than he was. Ahh, but what may be good for Derek, may not be good for the Lakers... when it comes to starting.

The Lakers, as a team, are 13-9 when Fish is on the floor at tip-off, compared with Hunter's impressive 34-11. Also, the Lakers are 23-10 when Fish comes off the bench. So, does that leave us with a clear cut decision? Maybe.

From these numbers above, it would appear that Coach Jackson should clearly start Hunter, as the team is, without question, more successful with him starting. Is this the solution, then? Not exactly.

You see, the Lakers are also 13-2 when Fish makes five field goals or more. Conversely, they are 0-11 when he makes four or less. So does this mean that as Fisher shoots inside the arc, so go the Lakers victories? It would seem so.

All of Derek Fisher's offensive numbers are up when he comes off the bench, inside the arc, outside the arc and from the line, they are all improved, even if only a little bit. On the other side, most of Hunter's numbers are close to the same when he comes off the bench except for minutes and three point accuracy. His minutes drop by 5 a game and his three point percentage goes from 39% down to 35%.

There are also a few 'X' factors in picking between the two of them. They both play that kind of "however I can help the team" defense. They each average less than a steal a game. But, since we're coming to the end of the regular season, you have to factor in the 'stepping up' factor. Which one steps up in important games, namely the playoffs. Fisher has appeared in 48 playoff games in his young career. Hunter has appeared in only 15 and is four years older. We've already covered how they performed in their most recent playoff outings- and Fisher gets the nod.

So where does this leave us?

Well, it appears that the Lakers need Fisher to be on the floor to win. They need his three point shooting, his clutch playoff performances and his running the floor- but they need it all from the bench. The Lakers are a better team with Hunter starting. Much better. The catch is that they are also much better with Fisher getting a majority of the minutes. Sounds weird, right?

Doesn't matter. The Lakers should start Hunter, bench him early, bring in Fisher and then use Hunter as the sub from the second quarter on. Fisher is much more of a gamer and has proven that he can hit tough shots at the end of games, so the fourth quarter is mostly his. Also, he's a better free throw shooter than Hunter.

There it is. We've decided for Coach Jackson. When he sends his Lakers prepared steak to the rest of the League for a playoff dinner, he should serve the condiments in the order we've laid out. Begin with a few splashes of Hunter, mix with steady doses of Fisher in the middle and end with a heavy pour of the big Fish. Enjoy, NBA.

Jon Finkel is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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