The NBA is full of talented basketball players — guys who can put up 20-10 stat lines on a near nightly basis. Yet impressive nightly stat lines during the regular season are no guarantee of postseason success. A more useful metric for understanding a player’s impact on winning is the number of postseason games they have played.
People often put down the postseason games played statistic as being the territory of ring chasers. Yet a player has to bring clutch skills to the table for a playoff contender to sign them to their team. For the perfect example, let’s take a closer look at retired guard Derek Fisher, who currently holds the record for the most playoff games ever played.
Derek Fisher’s NBA career
The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Fisher with the 24th pick of the 1996 NBA draft — the same year in which the Lakers acquired Kobe Bryant in a draft-day trade with the Charlotte Hornets. Fisher ultimately won all five of his titles playing alongside Bryant. The first three came in the Lakers’ three-peat from 2000 to 2002.
Fisher left the Lakers in 2004 to sign with the Golden State Warriors. He spent two ultimately disappointing seasons with Golden State before they traded him to the Utah Jazz. Fisher helped the Jazz advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they fell to the San Antonio Spurs, who went on to win the championship.
Fisher left the Jazz after just one season in order to return to the Lakers, where he remained until 2012. There Fisher won his fourth and fifth titles in 2009 and 2010, while playing as the Lakers starting point guard.
In 2012, the Lakers traded Fisher to the Houston Rockets, who quickly bought out his contract. Stops with the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder rounded out Fisher’s career.
Fisher’s greatest strength was as a sharp-shooter from long distance. Over the course of his career, he held a 37.4% three-point shooting percentage. That number rose to an even more impressive 39.9% during the playoffs.
Derek Fisher’s impressive postseason record
Fisher’s skill from deep, along with his proven ability to knock down big shots, ensured that he remained a coveted piece for the entirety of his career. Those skills also went a long way when it came to boosting the number of playoff games in which he appeared. Of course, being Bryant’s (and for a while, Shaquille O’Neal’s) teammate also helped Fisher get a ton of playoff experience.
As stated above, Fisher currently holds the record for the most playoff games ever played, at 259. Fisher was able to eclipse Bryant thanks to his post-Lakers trajectory. During his time with the Thunder, Fisher played in an impressive 50 postseason games.
If Fisher has any regrets, it would probably be the Thunder’s 2012 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat. If OKC had won, not only would Fisher have added several more games to his record, but he also would have secured the elusive sixth title ring.
Challenges to the record
Nine of the top 10 postseason games played records are held by retired players, including Fisher at number one. The only exception is LeBron James, who currently holds the number four spot with 239 career postseason games played. That puts James just 20 games shy of Fisher’s record, raising the burning question of whether James can capture the number one spot.
Even if this year’s postseason gets canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the odds look good for James. In fact, it’s theoretically possible that he could do it in just a single postseason. That would be the perfect cherry on top of what is already a highly impressive postseason resume.