Fact: Every NBA player wants to play big minutes.
With perhaps a few exceptions (uniquely unmotivated souls, you know who you are), playing time is the thing players covet most and control least. That mandate may not apply as directly to players like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, whose talents any coach simply can’t leave on the pine … But nearly every other player on L.A.’s roster knows that at least some of his professional livelihood may depend on if Phil Jackson decides to play him 10, 20 or 30 minutes a night.
Players as good as Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Derek Fisher are going to earn their share of minutes, but playing 20 vs. 30 can make a huge impact not only on the team, but more pointedly (in this case) on a player’s production.
For Fisher, getting big minutes hasn’t been much of an issue since his backup, Jordan Farmar, went down with a knee injury on Dec. 19 against Miami.
Derek Fisher 2008-09 Stats
Pre Farmar Injury:
28.0 minutes; 10.5 points; 3.3 assists; 2.5 rebounds; 0.9 turnovers; 41.3% FGs
Post Farmar Injury: 36.2 minutes; 14.8 points; 4.0 assists; 2.8 rebounds; 1.0 turnovers; 49% FGs
Totals Through 30 Games
29.4 minutes; 11.2 points, 3.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds; .93 turnovers; 42.8% FGs
Does 34 Matter?
The other number upon which there’s been a focus at least in the media is Fisher’s age: 34.
Though we should acknowledge that Fisher’s 34 isn’t the usual 34 – not after he takes such terrific care of his conditioning – do we know if playing six more minutes a game, on average, since Farmar’s injury makes a big difference on a body that hasn’t missed a game in four years? Maybe not. Fish has maintained throughout his career that he trains his body to play 48 minutes a night, and he honestly doesn’t appear to be fazed in the least – not that it should surprise us.
“I think it’s fun to compete,” said the veteran after Wednesday’s practice. “Guys that have made it to this level of professional sports – the drive and the persistence and determination that you have to show to get to this point – you don’t get here to want to sit on the bench half the game, and that goes for everybody.”
Of course, the feeling is somewhat fleeting.
“I think the difference for me is that through my life experiences and my basketball experiences, I know it’s not something that will stay forever,” Fisher added. “So I appreciate it and I maximize it when it’s there, but I’m smart enough and enough of a team player to know when to step back as soon as Jordan comes back, because he’s an important member of our team.”
Farmar did say at Thursday’s practice that his knee feels really good after the surgery. But until then, Coach, Fish doesn’t seem to mind playing all 48. That’s up to you.