Landry Fields serves a purpose.
I know…I’m as surprised as you are, but it’s true. Landry Fields has started the last five games for Toronto and hasn’t looked terrible. In fact, he’s looked pretty good.
Fields came into the season as one of the team’s few (only?) deadweights on the roster, and looked just that way before stepping into the starting line-up on December 9. Through the first 21 games of the season, Fields appeared just six games and played a mere 22 minutes of action, for an average of 3.6 minutes per game. To put that in perspective, Bruno Caboclo played 12 minutes in his one appearance (prior to seeing a minute of action last night), and Lucas Nogueira is averaging 5.4 minutes in his two games.
Even Greg Stiemsma averaged 6.8 minutes per game during his six appearances.
Landry was as deeply buried on the bench as one could get. Not included in the regular rotation, and even barely used during garbage time. He was in NBA purgatory, and it looked like his NBA career might have effectively been over.
But all that changed on December 9 when Dwane Casey shocked everyone by announcing that Landry would replace Greivis Vasquez in the starting line-up.
Since then, Fields is averaging 22 minutes over the last five games, reminding everyone why the Raptors signed him a little over two years ago…you know…outside of trying to use him as a tool to block New York from signing Steve Nash.
Fields’ time in Toronto could barely have started worse. Just a few months after arriving in Toronto, Landry’s shot was noticeably limited. Tests soon revealed a nerve problem in his elbow which would require surgery.
He hasn’t been the same since.
Granted, Fields is still an excellent cutter on offense, a crafty wing defender, and a high IQ player…but he is still broken. His arm has never been the same, and he displays obvious doubt even when lining up the most open of shots. Last season saw him shoot a career low of 40.3 percent, miss all five of his shots from long distance (shot 39.3 percent from three as a rookie), and just 63.6 percent from the charity stripe.
All of that for a $6.25 million against the salary cap…not exactly a bargain.
Coming into the season, that was the biggest contribution that I hoped for from Fields. A large expiring contract for Masai Ujiri to play with. A financial tool to balance salaries within the framework of a lager deal. Just a few months ago, Fields was nothing more than a financial number to me.
Now…he’s at least a little more than a number.
Take last night as an example. Fields did an admirable job defending Joe Johnson, got a steal early on by jumping the passing lane on a cut to the paint (an example of his basketball IQ/instincts at work), created a few open looks with his crafty dribbling, and generally did not look out of place.
Landry has improved his shooting percentage this season to 60 percent, and 83.3 percent from the free throw line (not to mention hitting 50 percent of his three point attempts…one of his two attempts).
Fields even hit his first three point shot in well over a year, off of a beautiful set-up by Kyle Lowry.
But just look at that hesitation. The only people who doubted Fields more than he did himself, were the Orlando Magic defenders, who didn’t even pretend to try and challenge his shot.
His presence has also allowed Casey to re-unite Vasquez with the rest of the bench lineup, which despite Vasquez’s poor personal performance, has been a very effective group over the past five games. Landry is getting by with taking high percentage shots, and only shooting within the flow of the offense. Just take a look at his shooting chart from this season:
With all that being said, the Raptors haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of teams with Fields starting. Outside of their match-up against the Cleveland Cavaliers, they haven’t faced a single team with a winning record. In fact, Indiana, Orlando, New York and Brooklyn are a combined 33-69. And in all but his first start against Cleveland, the Raptors have held their opponent to under 95 points.
Fields has been asked to step in against some of the worst teams in the NBA. He has been effective, but hasn’t wowed anyone. Above all though, Landry hasn’t stood out, and I mean that both as a compliment and as a critique. He has simply existed. Over the past 5 games, Fields has a plus/minus of -1 per game.
But that feels like the best case scenario for a player as limited as Landry is. Fields went from being the deepest bench player on the team to a starting role, and still managed to not hurt the team production too much.
Anyone speculating that Fields is being played to up his trade value isn’t paying attention. He is what he is, and unless his arm miraculously heals overnight, his value on the trade market is to teams looking for financial relief from a long term contract.
With all that being said, Fields may be just a few short weeks away from disappearing to the end of the bench. When DeMar DeRozan returns from injury, the Raptors wing rotation won’t have the space, or the need, for Landry. He will once again be little more than luxury garbage player.
Fields will once again be nothing more than a $6.25 million expiring contract. Despite not being worth anywhere near that as a player, Fields has shown that he still has the ability to do what is needed on the court. Not a bad player to have as the13th-15th man on your roster.