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Can Landry Fields Return to His Rookie Season Form?

We continue our series of "Big Questions for the 2013-14 Raptors" with Zach Salzmann's look at Landry Fields. His question - will Raptors' fans ever get to see the rookie version of Fields, or something close to it?

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With the exception of the $37 million still owed to Rudy Gay, there may not be a more stinging reminder of Bryan Colangelo's late-tenure follies than Landry Fields' bloated contract; a contract that will eat up over $6.25 million worth of cap space over the next two seasons. As it currently stands, in that final year, Fields could be the 3rd highest paid player on the team, but barring a roster overhaul of Philadelphia 76ers-esque proportions, it's a sure bet that he won't be the 3rd best player.

Landry Fields won't ever be an NBA superstar. He's a role player. Whether he can be a solid role player, the type that all successful teams need on their roster, remains to be seen. We should have a pretty good idea by the end of the coming season, however.

By this point most people are familiar with the circumstances that led to the Raptors signing Landry Fields to a $20 million contract. The Knicks wanted Steve Nash and were going to try to execute a sign-and-trade with Phoenix, sending Fields to the Suns. Colangelo, coveting Nash himself, extended an offer sheet to Fields to prevent the Knicks from carrying out the deal. Except that Nash didn't sign with Toronto either -- despite elaborate video presentations, lots of Wayne Gretzky, and lots of crying (apparently). The Raptors were left without Steve Nash - which I'd maintain is probably a good thing in the long term considering his age and the contract that was on offer - and with a 3rd year swingman on a stupid contract.

That Fields' contract is bad isn't the same thing as saying that Fields is a bad player -he's not bad by any stretch. In fact, after his rookie season, he looked like a really decent prospect. Drafted 39th overall, out of Stanford, Fields put up some really decent numbers on a surprisingly competitive Knicks team, led by a rejuvenated Amar'e Stoudemire. Fields averaged 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and almost 2 assists per game. Even more impressively he shot 39% from 3-point range. Only Toney Douglas and Raymond Felton made more 3s than Fields, who drained 86 of his 219 attempts from downtown. Fields deservedly made the All-Rookie First-Team with the likes of John Wall, Blake Griffin, and Boogie Cousins.

Fields isn't in the same stratosphere as those aforementioned players, of course, both in terms of his current abilities, and in terms of his potential. But while he may have overachieved on a young, free-flowing Knicks team, playing for a coach, in Mike D'Antoni, who's done wonders for the stat-lines of many a-player, last season in Toronto he looked like a shadow of the player he should be, given his skill-set.

Granted, Fields' numbers did decline during his second season in New York, partly as a result of playing on a team that alternated between playing the pick-n-roll, and then with Carmelo Anthony in the lineup, lots of iso-heavy offense. It was hard for anyone to get settled offensively. But last season in Toronto was an unmitigated disaster. Fields missed 31 games with elbow and wrist injuries, and when he did play, he only averaged 20 minutes per game. His scoring and rebounding numbers obviously declined, but he also shot a career-worst percentage from the field, including a dismal 14% from 3-point range. At least he was good at this:


So, what can we expect from Fields in 2013-14? Will we see something resembling his rookie-year performance, or more of what we saw last season?

Well, if we assume that Fields' elbow is nearing 100% then it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a better shooting performance from him this season. As far as someone's shooting stroke goes it's hard to think of anything more debilitating than an elbow injury on your shooting arm. Fields has reportedly spent the off-season rehabbing his elbow and reconstructing his jump-shot. If nothing else, you'd expect that he'll shoot better than 14% from 3 this season. He probably won't get up to 40% as he did during his rookie year, but if he can creep up to the mid 30s, he'd be a pretty useful asset coming off the bench.

Of course, Fields isn't going to be expected to score much, and he won't -- if he can knock down corner 3s at a decent clip, and make off-the-ball cuts to the basket then that'll be more than satisfactory. Fields does have a reasonably high basketball IQ and he moves well without the ball. On a second-unit, without many shot-creators, that's a pretty essential skill.

Coming off the bench Fields will probably see time at both shooting-guard and small-forward. His versatility is an asset in that respect. He's a pretty decent rebounder relative to both positions - a much better rebounder than DeMar DeRozan, for example, a player he'll probably spend some time backing-up. Fields doesn't have the athleticism of DeRozan or Terrence Ross, but he's a more physical player than both.

Where Dwane Casey will be really hoping Fields can contribute next season - and where he may have a significant advantage over Ross and Steve Novak, as far as backing up DeRozan and Rudy Gay is concerned - is defensively. As well as his defensive rebounding, Fields has demonstrated in his short career that he has the ability to play some pretty solid defense. Again, he's not the quickest player in the world, but he's smart enough and physical enough to stay in front of his man, and he's shown himself to be a good team defender - communicating well and drawing his fair share of charges under the basket, when he's on his game.

Ultimately Fields has the potential to be the type of player a defensive-minded coach like Casey wants in the locker-room. He works hard, hustles on every play, and appears to be a low-maintenance guy who cares about his teammates (just ask Jeremy Lin how comfortable that couch was).

But once we throw the immeasurable intangibles aside we're still left with a guy on a really bad contract, relative to what he brings to the table. Even if Fields rediscovers his shooting touch, and is able to play some solid defense, barring a complete roster implosion, he probably still won't be anything more than an expensive back-up this season.

Fields is overpaid, and may never be able to right that particular Colangelo-created wrong with his play on the court, but he isn't the player that we saw last season. He's better than that. This year we should see a progression to the mean.