USA TODAY Sports
The HQ's Brandon Graham discusses the rejuvenation of the Toronto Raptors' starting small forward, Landry Fields.
"Not worth it", "poor executive decision", a "waste of money". These were all terms used to describe the signing of former New York Knicks forward, Landry Fields, shortly after he inked his luxurious three-year, $18.7 million contract this past summer.
Deriving from an established program at the University of Stanford to later landing as a starting swingman on the Knicks in only his sophomore season, one can assume that Fields has been forced to adapt his game on a number of occasions. As some of us may already know, with great reward comes great responsibility, in the case of Fields', that responsibility came in and it came in fast.
From the opening tip of the season, many (if not all) Raptors' followers expected Fields to be a contributing piece to the puzzle that the squad has missed over the past few years immediately. A glue-guy that could not only contain a teams' most lethal scorer, but could fill up the basket with his proven slashing ability and consistent mid-range jump shot, Fields was expected to be the club's starting small forward from Day 1. Hell, he was even compared to Shane Battier in terms of his basketball intangibles.
And off the court you could say there were expectations too.
From his theatrical video appearances as a Knick, to the famous "couch stories" that helped ignite Linsanity, Fields made a name for himself as an entertaining character, and that was expected to continue as a member of the Toronto Raptors.
However things didn't exactly get off to a great start.
Over the first five games Fields averaged 2.4 points, 1.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds in over 21 minutes of playing time as the Raps' starting small forward, shooting 20.8 per cent from the field and not having a single three-pointer made to his name.
Yes, a drought not even his supermodel girlfriend Elaine Alden could relieve.
But here we have it, six weeks after undergoing ulnar nerve surgery in his elbow, Fields looking much more comfortable with his role. In an interview with RealGM.com, the 6'7 small forward admitted that his major contract did in fact affect his game on the court at first.
"Earlier on I really did feel that," said Fields. "But going through this whole surgery thing has really been a humbling experience. I kind of promised myself when I came back that I wasn't going to focus on that anymore. I was just going to go out there and play my game. What they gave me and what I've come here to do are on their own accord. All I can do now is control what I can do. I can't really worry about (the contract). That just puts too much added pressure on myself."
Ever since returning and conducting this honest interview, Fields has come out and looked like an entirely new player for the Dinos. Although there still may be some hesitation with his mid-to deep-range jumper, he's picked right up where he left off as a Knick with his slashing and distributing ability with and without the basketball. This has worked in favor of the guards handling the ball, especially Jose Calderon, who has looked in sync with Fields' cuts and positioning to the basket in the half-court game.
When I get out there, I don't think about my elbow, what's really going on," Fields said, comparing his awareness on the floor compared to the start of the year. "I just play free and comfortable. In turn, that builds my confidence. You need confidence when you're out there playing."
In addition, the absence of Fields' throughout his recovery period sparked the emergence of Alan Anderson, who is slowly but surely becoming a fan-favorite. Somewhat emulating the qualities that Morris Peterson brought to the table in the past; Anderson continues to showcase his all-around skills, providing the club with much needed defense, energy and scoring off the pine.
And yet with Mikael Pietrus, the band-aid replacement signing, now struggling, Fields couldn't have scripted his return for a better time.
Averaging 6.5 ppg, 1.4 assists and 6.6 rebounds over the last 10 games as a starter has helped the Raps' tremendously in the transition game, giving them not only another offensive option, but most importantly giving the club a nice boost on the defensive end. While earning his second double-double of the season with 18 points, 10 rebounds along with four steals against a weary Lakers team Sunday afternoon, he also played his most consistent defense of the season containing Kobe Bryant who in the end had a poor shooting night.
Performances similar to Sundays are simply a testament towards the value that the Raps' front office had in him before signing his three-year deal. His grit, rebounding and defense combined with his slashing and solid finishing ability was instrumental in Toronto's win over the Lakers, giving LA fits defensively. Head Coach Dwane Casey complimented Fields' game as of late;
"He has really, really improved, but the No.1 thing I have seen him improve since he came back from the surgery is his confidence. He is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and I think that has helped other parts of his game."
Giving the nightmare of a start that Fields has left behind, the hope is that Raptors' fans are willing to forgive, forget and give him the benefit of the doubt from here on out. This still doesn't dismiss the fact that he's got to find ways to create his own shot and score, but it's hard not to like what you've seen from the former Stanford grad of late.