Is Landry Fields Toronto’s Missing Piece?
At the start of this season, the Toronto Raptors had penciled in Landry Fields as their starting small forward. The free agent wing acquired from New York had been an effective starter for the Knicks over his first two seasons in the league. In his rookie year, Fields had sunk 39.3 percent of his 219 three-point field goal attempts. As Raptors head coach Dwane Casey constantly explains, he needs three-point shooters to spread the floor for his offense to work.
“We dearly need it,” Casey said. “We are 22, 23, 24 in the NBA in three-point shooting. To open up the floor for DeMar [DeRozan] and Rudy [Gay], we need to develop that shot, any three-point shot, to stretch the floor. Whether it is from Andrea [Bargnani] or from our point guard or from whoever it is, we need consistent three-point shooting. If not, the paint is just going to get tighter and tighter and tighter.”
Fields, however, lost his three-point shot during his second season in New York. The problem was often blamed on a lack of chemistry with All-Star Carmelo Anthony. Fields boasted his shot was back after joining the Raptors in the summer, but instead his shooting got worse after the season started and conductive nerve testing on his right arm confirmed problems with his ulnar nerve that required surgery to correct. Toronto’s expensive free agent acquisition missed the next 22 games recovering from the operation. The when and how of Fields’ injury was never identified and the surgery was but the first step in regaining Fields’ jump shooting prowess.
“I think just the nerve in his arm was a gradual thing, but year one, you feared him in the corner,” Casey said. “Then gradually you could just see [he couldn’t shoot anymore] and he came to the realization when he had surgery. How that all happened to come about, I don’t know.
“It’s coming. He is working on it every day. I don’t know what his numbers are compared to earlier, but it is much better, if nothing else confidence-wise. Since the surgery, he has a little more confidence in his shot. Definitely his free throws are much better, but I think it’s going to be a summer time thing to totally redo his shot to get it back to where he was in year one. He is more comfortable with his shot than he was earlier, especially pre-surgery.”
Fortunately, there is a lot more to Fields’ game than just his jump shot and the 24-year-old wing has been able to contribute on the defensive end of the floor, as well as with his rebounding and around the basket on offense.
“[Defense] kind of develops as you get older, but I always felt I’ve been an okay defender,” Fields said. “Now it is kind of the focal point of what they expect of me, it is something I really go into the game thinking about and try to do well.”
“[His defense] is coming along big,” DeRozan said. “He is a big body. He can guard guards. He can guard fours. That is what is unique about him. It allows us to go small with him in the game with no problem.”
Casey has been using Fields as the Raptors’ solution to guarding stretch fours without disrupting the rest of his rotation and to deal with some of the stronger two-guards as well. This versatile defensive ability has enabled Casey to keep Fields in the game even though the Raptors are now overstocked at the wing.
“I don’t have any preference,” Fields said. “I like to stay on the floor, so wherever they are going to play me, I am going to play that spot.
“It is definitely tough guarding bigger guys, especially in the post. Coach uses me at the four where their four is a little bit smaller than a traditional four, but when there are bigger guys in there, that is when I get low and use my quickness as my strength. One of the reasons I am able to play that four spot is the stretch four is a position I can guard and we can still keep our main big guns in the game at the perimeter spots.”
Fields’ best position is probably at small forward where he has shown a knack for collecting an unusually high number of rebounds. A career average of 5.2 rebounds per game with numerous 10-plus rebounding efforts, Fields had a career-high 17 boards against Denver as a rookie and this season, he has collected 10-plus rebounds five times. If there is something the Raptors have needed in the past, it’s been more rebounding.
“[Rebounding] is just a part of my game,” Fields said. “Sometimes it’s out there and sometimes it’s not, but if I am down there, especially at the three spot, I really can rebound. It is tougher at the four as there are bigger guys and I am relying on other guys as I try to take my man out. Especially at the three, rebounding is a stat everybody can get. It is there for the taking.”
Even without a reliable jump shot, Fields has contributed at the offensive end of the floor this season. Solid in transition, Fields displays a sneaky kind of athletic ability under the rim and can surprise with his quickness and ability to finish at the basket.
“Landry does a lot of things that we do not have anyone else on this team can do,” DeRozan said. “He is great at cutting, picking and choosing his spots and finishing at the basket. That’s one thing that is great about him and that is one thing that I used to hate about him when he was with New York.”
The road back from elbow surgery has been a tough one for Fields. He still doesn’t trust his stroke from outside and has taken over 200 fewer three-point attempts than in his rookie season. He doesn’t play every game and when he plays, his minutes have fluctuated from a low of two to over 47 as Casey searches for ways to best utilize the skills Fields is comfortable using since his return. Through the recovery, rehab and extra work with trainers and coaches, Fields has maintained a positive outlook and plays hard when given a chance.
“I rely a lot on my faith in terms of things [like my contract and injury situation],” Fields said. “Without that, it would really mess with my psyche especially with this hand. That is what I lean on and without that I don’t think I could get through it. The day-to-day process is really just keeping my cool. It is a slow process and it can get frustrating at times and at times I can be impatient, so it is always nice to have that foundation.”
To really fulfill the Raptors needs and expectations, Fields has a lot of work to do this summer. Just being a defender at the two, three and four and a solid rebounder is not enough to justify the big contract Toronto gave him in July. He has to find his jump shot again and become the floor stretching three-point threat he was in his rookie season. With all of his tools back in the kit, Fields can become the effective all-purpose glue-guy the Raptors were hoping they had acquired and be an important piece on an improving team next year.