The learning curve of Derek Fisher has been one of the least discussed topics in this young NBA season among those who closely follow the Knicks. Compulsive and reactionary fans prematurely assessed his acumen as a rookie head coach during a woeful 17-65 campaign a season ago. With his best player, Carmelo Anthony, undergoing knee surgery right after the All-Star Game break in February, Fisher was left with a roster that resembled an elite D-League squad.
But with significant upgrades resulting from multiple free agent signings this past offseason, as well as the return of Anthony, Fisher has more tools with which to construct game plans and viable options on his bench to summon that can favorably affect outcomes. Exhibit A: calling on Kevin Seraphin Sunday at home versus the New Orleans Pelicans. The unlikely 25-year-old, 6-foot-10 power forward played 14 crucial minutes, mostly in the fourth quarter, providing 12 points, three rebounds and palpable energy in the Knicks’ 95-87 win.
Fisher is gradually changing perceptions that he is merely the de facto coach of the Knicks, that he is essentially communicating the directives of the team president, Phil Jackson. Although this perception has always been an unconvincing premise, the evolution of Fisher will be defined by him forging his own identity.
The process entails absorbing the many empirical lessons that are rapidly imparted. “A lot of things happen in [a] game that you can’t replicate,” Fisher said Sunday. “Every time we have a game, I’m learning more and more. At the same time there’s a lot that I learned last season that I feel has me in a better place.”
Clearly more in command and comfortable in his second season, the 41-year-old native of Little Rock, Ark., whose playing career spanned from 1996 to 2014, certainly has the Knicks in a much more positive space. They begin a six-day, four-game road trip tomorrow (Friday), commencing against the Oklahoma City Thunder, with a 6-6 record.
There will be many peaks and valleys for Fisher and the Knicks over their remaining 70 games, but the coach and his charges are thus far inarguably making encouraging progress.