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Is Landry Fields Actually an Upgrade Over James Johnson for Raptors?

Landry Fields may not block shots like James Johnson, but his other defensive intangibles make him a similar factor at that end of the court.
Landry Fields may not block shots like James Johnson, but his other defensive intangibles make him a similar factor at that end of the court.

The price tag for Landry Fields was pretty steep for the Toronto Raptors, but is he actually an upgrade over James Johnson, the player he's likely replacing in the line-up? RaptorsHQ takes a look...

To be honest a rather large part of me didn't want to write about basketball this morning.

After the heart-wrenching loss by the Canadian Women's soccer team yesterday at the Olympics, I was tempted to simply pen a rather lengthy rant about the end result, and avoid any other sports talk for the day.

But a great chat with Raptors' Assistant Coach Eric Hughes this weekend, one that we'll have for you next week, I decided to get back in the saddle and talk about the team, continuing to examine the club's off-season acquisitions.

Last week we talked a lot about Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors big off-season get from a year ago, who's of course only making his way to the NBA this coming fall. Chris Walder talked about his arrival in TO, I looked at some of the expectations facing JV, and we gave a number of updates after that regarding his play in the current Olympic Games in London.

So yes, last night I decided that this week we'd turn our attention to another new off-season acquisition, Landry Fields.

Fields of course was signed to a somewhat controversial offer sheet back in July, one the New York Knicks, his former club, failed to match, and now Fields seems destined to become Toronto's starting small forward next season.

It's easy to criticize Landry's acquisition of course.

The Raptors are paying over $6M a season for the next three years, for a player who has averaged under 10 points a game during his two-year career, not to mention last year one who shot a measly 26 per cent from downtown and under 60 per cent from the free-throw line. That kind of money is usually reserved for solid, starting caliber players and while Fields will likely start in TO, on most other teams in the league, he'd most likely be coming off the pine.

Add on the fact that Fields may need to once again rebuild his jump shot and there are a number of reasons to be skeptical about this acquisition.

You can pontificate about the value of the contract, or if there were better options out there for the Raps at the 3, but that's all hindsight right now. For now at least, the Raps are stuck with Fields, and to me, the major piece of analysis required is just how Fields will benefit this team next season, and if he's actually an upgrade over James Johnson.

Because at the end of the day, we know that Linas Kleiza is more effective as a 4, Terrence Ross is a rookie, and DeMar DeRozan was a -4.1 in PER when playing the small forward spot last year.

So let's take a look at Fields vs. Johnson, first, comparing the basic metrics of the two players:

















































At a first glance, there's not a whole lot separating these two in terms of their box score contributions last year.

Johnson gets the edge for being a tad more efficient, and while I didn't put the stat up, Johnson's 1.4 blocks per game crush Fields' 0.2 mark. But with less assists, and more turnovers and personal fouls, Johnson's not winning the overall metrics picture by a huge margin. No, we're not talking about Michael Jordan versus Harold Miner here.

And looking at the advanced stats we see a repeat of the above.

Yes, Johnson boasted a stronger PER mark last year versus Fields (14.5 vs. 12.0), but nearly all the other advanced metrics are neck and neck. One I found especially interesting was defensive win score as Johnson had a mark of 2.5 but Fields was right there with a score of 2.6. Yes, Johnson is far and away the superior shot blocker of the two, but the other metrics go to show defense isn't simply about rejecting shot attempts. Fields does a lot of other defensive things very well, making up for his lack of swats.

In fact those "other things" likely explain the one metric where Fields has a distinct advantage - wins produced. Fields produced 6.7 for the Knicks last year whereas Johnson produced only 2.0 for the Raps.

Regardless of what metrics you choose to put your faith in, I think the bottom line here is that at worst, the Raptors are filling the small forward spot with a player who will be as productive overall as Johnson. If Fields shoots like he did last year, offensively he won't produce like Johnson did, but Landry's other areas of strength such as passing, moving without the ball, rebounding and defence will help make up for that.

However if Fields' numbers approach those of his rookie season...

And that's the six million dollar question to me.

Can the Raptors get Fields to play like the player he was out of college?

It's lazy to think that simply by placing Fields in a "Melo-less situation" that all will return to normal because as Seth from Posting and Toasting pointed out last month, Fields had open looks, and just couldn't hit a damn thing. Issues like that have nothing to do with Carmelo Anthony or the New York Knicks' offensive system.

However if Coach Casey and his team can implement some sets that emphasize Landry's strengths, and if Fields can fix his wonky shot (something it seems he's working on currently), Raptors' fans could be in for a nice surprise. The team hasn't had a productive small forward since the days of Carlos Delfino (wait, you thought I was going to say Hedo!!!??) and Landry, a similar type, has a great chance to really cement himself under Casey.

Again, based on last year's production, the six million plus a season that Toronto is paying Fields seems pretty steep, but a trending towards rookie season numbers and some solid D from that spot will go a long ways in winning over Dino-followers.

At worst we're looking at essentially the return of James Johnson impact-wise, minus whatever apparent drama surrounded his playing time, something that could end up being a big "win" behind the scenes.

But at best, we're talking about a very productive option to pair with other positive additions such as Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, all of which should mean a nice boost in Toronto's win total next year.