Vanderbilt’s last game of the season, a 68-66 loss to Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, almost feels like a microcosm of Matthew Fisher-Davis’s season.
The junior led the team with 22 points and almost single-handedly brought Vanderbilt back from a 15-point deficit in the second half. He also committed a foul in the final minute that might have cost Vanderbilt the game... but then, it was a game that Vanderbilt would have never even had a chance to win if not for Matthew Fisher-Davis.
Given the makeup of Vanderbilt’s roster going into 2016-17, it was fairly obvious that Fisher-Davis was going to play a bigger role than he had his first two years, when he was a role player on an offense that featured Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin IV. Fisher-Davis’s usage rate jumped from 14.9 percent as a sophomore to a team-leading 24.4 percent as a junior. He went from averaging 7.4 field goal attempts per game as a sophomore to 10.6 as a junior — and as he started going inside more often, he also got to the foul line a lot more (3.6 attempts per game, compared to 1.1 per game as a sophomore.)
He also predictably became less efficient. He actually got better inside the arc, but he shot 37.2 percent on threes — and he shot a mediocre 33.6 percent beyond the arc in SEC play. While he was the team’s leading scorer on the season, he dropped to second behind Luke Kornet in SEC games — an indication that he didn’t do as well when the competition stepped up. He found himself in Bryce Drew’s doghouse a couple of times, playing just 11 minutes in an early-season loss to Butler, and drawing a one-game suspension for a road game at Arkansas.
And the new lineup for that Arkansas game, with Joe Toye replacing him in the starting lineup, worked so well that Fisher-Davis came off the bench for the remainder of the season. Over the team’s final 11 games, he averaged just 10.4 ppg and that included a goose egg at Kentucky and two points against Florida (while playing just 33 minutes combined) in the final week of the regular season.
Just what the hell do we make of all of this? I still don’t know. It’s pretty clear that the team is better with Fisher-Davis at his best — and yet, Vanderbilt as a team seemed to play its best basketball late in the season, when he was playing a reduced role. His mental mistakes were frustrating, and yet he single-handedly kept Vanderbilt in a few games this season.
At the end of the day, Matthew Fisher-Davis is who we thought he was: a good shooter who can stretch defenses, but probably a guy you want as your third option and not one who you want to be the focal point of your offense. That’s certainly valuable, but I feel like Vanderbilt would be better if it could find someone else to be the alpha dog next season. The bad news is that, with Luke Kornet graduating, Fisher-Davis may be the alpha dog by default next year.
So after I’ve written all this, watch him average 20 points per game as a senior.
Grade: B. It’s hard to grade a player like this, because it’s not really his fault that Vanderbilt needed him to play this big of a role in the offense — but it also just felt like he wasn’t handling it all that well. I don’t know, man.