Landry Fields - the player who once wasn't expected to be drafted now must start and produce as New York's SG.
It was the second day of Knicks training camp in Greenburgh, New York.
There were two basketball courts and long row chairs for the media, ranging from mid-court to the left baseline of the near court. Curiously, the colors of the courts were not orange and blue. Instead they were a light blue and green for the New York Liberty, the Knicks’ WNBA counterpart. The Knickerbockers still managed to make a larger presence in the gym. The numbers of their legends, like Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier, and Willis Reed, hung in the background.
Free agency had opened the day before. Teams were unable to contact players during the five-month long lockout, so there were only six players under contract and allowed to practice. On separate half-courts, Renaldo Balkman practiced long-range jumpers, Amar’e Stoudemire worked on his free throws, and Carmelo Anthony drove to the basket.
Landry Fields, who was shooting on the far court on my side, was wearing a different number. He wore the number 6 last season, but was wearing the number 2 in practice. After practice that day, Fields tweeted, “Side note: @TysonChandler will be wearing #6 this year. He's got years, he's got a ring. Very least I can do for him! Back to college #2..”
Fields stood at the top of the three-point line, holding a basketball with two hands. In a quick flip of his wrists, he applied backspin to the ball. The orange mass flew to his left side, and then bounced up at the elbow. He took a quick step towards the ball, caught it out of the air, stopped, and jumped. A flick of his right wrist sent the ball tumbling towards the net. Swish.
He went back to the three-point line threw it to the right side this time and did the same thing. Swish. He kept going as if he was washing his hands, lather-rinse-repeat.
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Landry Fields’ athletic, gritty play has made him a fan favorite in New York in only one season with the Knicks. The Knicks shooting guard was unshaken by the pressure of playing for the most demanding fans on the planet. After talking with Fields, Fields seems like a guy who’s lived here his whole life. That assumption is dead wrong.
Landry Fields was born on the other side of the country, in Long Beach, California. He never moved too far away from there. He was raised in Los Alamitos, California, which is a short, 10-minute drive from his birthplace.
Landry was born into a basketball family. Both of his parents are six feet tall or taller. His father, mother, and two sisters all played college ball. He credited his mom and dad with giving him the inspiration to start playing, but nobody pushed him into the sport.
“It was something that I picked up as I went along,” Fields said. “The love came on my own. I thank them for that, for allowing me to grow and not pushing me into something that I didn’t want to do.”
Landry took the traditional route to the NBA – AAU to high school to college, then the draft. Fields said his AAU and high school coaches helped him progress.
“My AAU coach, Acie Diaz, really pushed the competition of basketball,” said the Knicks guard. “In high school, my coach Russ May was fundamental in my succession as a player and even as a person.”
Fields wasn’t the only highly regarded athlete at Los Alamitos High School. The San Diego Chargers’ Antoine Cason graduated in 2004 and the Dallas Cowboys’ Orlando Scandrick graduated in 2005.
Fields graduated from Los Alamitos High in 2006. He had to take the SAT’s four times to get the marks to get into Stanford, but sure enough, he got in.
He averaged 4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 14 minutes per game as a freshman. Fields experienced a little bit of a sophomore slump as most his numbers went down: 4.1 points and 2 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game.
Despite the small taste of playing time in his first two years at Stanford, he became rich in experience by playing alongside NBA talent. The New Jersey Nets’ Brook Lopez was the center of the Cardinal, and his brother, the Phoenix Suns’ Robin Lopez, was the forward.
“They were some of my best friends the first two years,” Fields said. “They helped me develop as a player in getting used to those big bodies on the court.”
In Fields’ junior year, his minutes increased after the Lopez twins left for the NBA. He showed vast improvement, with 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in his 30.7 minutes per game.
Fields emerged as a top NCAA scorer in his senior year. He averaged 22 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, both of which lead the Pac-10 Conference. The 22 points per game were also eighth-best in the nation.
Even those impressive averages weren’t good enough for scouts. Landry was 93rd in NBADraft.net’s draft rankings. He didn’t even make Chad Ford’s, ESPN’s draft specialist, top 100 draft prospects or DraftExpress’ mock draft.
“The big question for him coming out of college was what his position was going to be and could he shoot,” said Tommy Dee, founder of TheKnicksBlog.com and scout for Marty Blake and Associates.
The shortcomings of the Pac-10 in the 2009-2010 season contributed to his weak ranking. Also, despite Fields’ strong performance, Stanford’s team finished with only 14 wins in 32 games.
Fields’ agent, Chris Emens, met Landry shortly after his senior season at Stanford concluded and entered a business relationship the month of the draft. Emens knew Fields’ mix of a high basketball IQ, versatility, and motivation gave him potential right from the get-go.
“I think I always believed he was an NBA player,” said Emens. Fields wasn’t invited to the NBA pre-draft camp, but he worked with former NBA player Miles Simon and was on court for 8 AM to 3 PM to train. He prepared for the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and private workouts for NBA teams. Emens couldn’t recall all the teams that Fields worked out for.
“It was an excessive amount,” said Emens as he chuckled. “It was probably around I’m guessing 18 teams.”
His hard work paid off. In the 2010 NBA Draft, 37 picks went by before the Knicks had their back-to-back second round picks. They selected Andy Rautins, who would become Fields’ best friend on the team, with the 38th pick and Landry Fields with the 39th.
This came as a surprise. Even after all Fields’ hard work and “excessive” workouts, analysts like Tommy Dee believed the NBA Draft would pass without Fields being picked.
“Donnie Walsh [the Knicks former president of basketball operations] was someone who was a big fan of his overall ability and overall talent, and someone who he found to be great value,” Dee said. “Obviously, he had a great workout with the Knicks pre-draft.”
Fields didn’t stop playing, even after the draft. He went to the NBA summer league and was one of the most surprising performers. He was only one of two rookie 2nd round draftees who averaged at least 15 points per game.
A month after the summer league ended, it was time for NBA training camp. The young 6’7” swingman out of Stanford surprised Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni and earned the starting shooting guard position at the start of the season.
For the first two months of the season, Fields outperformed the #1 overall pick, John Wall of the Washington Wizards (although Wall missed 12 games in the first two months of the season). He won the Eastern Conference NBA Rookie of the Month in November and December, averaging 10 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Fields really found his role on the Knicks, but lost that in late February, when they made the big trade with Denver centered on Carmelo Anthony. D’Antoni thought his rookie shooting guard tailed off.
“He hit the wall,” Coach D’Antoni said. “I think a lot of it was with the trade. It all coincided together. I don’t think it was how we played, more than being distracted and losing your confidence a little bit. He was playing a little bit different where he wasn’t comfortable with it.”
Fields continued underperforming in the playoffs. He scored a total of 7 points and had only 5 rebounds in the four game series against the Celtics.
But his surprise season did not go unnoticed among the 118 writers and broadcasters who vote for the NBA Rookie of the Year. Fields placed fourth, only behind the two previous #1 overall picks, Blake Griffin and John Wall, and the fifth overall pick DeMarcus Cousins. Fourth place was the highest that any second round pick after going straight from college to the NBA. Fields also was selected to the NBA All-Rookie 1st team.
The most impressive of all his stats was he was tied with NBA superstar Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat for rebounds per game among guards with 6.4, revealing already he has elite instinct near the hoop.
Then came the NBA lockout. He had some offers to play overseas, but declined all of them. The Stanford grad spent the months at home in California, working on his conditioning. After a hard days work, he’d pick up an XBOX 360 controller and play some games with his friends.
“I played a lot of FIFA, some Madden, but mostly Call of Duty,” Fields said with a smirk.
Stop. Why doesn’t he play an NBA video game where he can play as himself?
“I don’t play any NBA games because, to me, they’re not realistic and I get upset over that,” the Knicks guard said as he was holding back laughs.
His laughter and game-playing are a tribute to his personality. Off the court, he’s a jokester. Last season, Fields participated in a Modell’s promotional video in which he dressed as a normal employee and tried to sell his own jersey to customers.
He also did a small bit for MSG.com called The Andy and Landry Show. Fields and best friend, former teammate Andy Rautins (he was traded to the Mavericks) went to city destinations and did silly things, like dance with cast members from the Broadway show Memphis and go speed dating.
Most notably, Fields and Rautins lip-synched with YouTube star Keenan Cahill as they performed one of the Knicks theme songs “GO NY GO.”
Josh Harrelson, this year’s Knicks second round pick, had been Fields’ teammate for all of 36 hours when I talked to him (Harrelson signed his contract the day before). Harrelson already had high praises for his colleague.
“He’s a good kid,” said Harrelson. “A lot of character. On and off the court, there’s not a better guy I’d like to hang out with. He’s always trying to motivate you to do better. He likes to joke around too, but that’s what you like. You like to have friendly guys like that on a team, and that just makes everybody closer.”
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Knicks training camp, day 4. It was only the second day that the team had enough players on the roster to play a scrimmage against each other. Anthony turned his ankle while stepping over someone’s leg early in the practice. Landry Fields moved into his position while Iman Shumpert, the Knicks most recent 1st round draft pick, moved into Fields’ spot on the A team.
Overall, the ball movement was poor. One would expect that with a bunch of new teammates and little chemistry built between them. One player stood out among all of them.
Over the next 40 minutes, Fields had 4 steals, 2 blocked shots, and lead the A team’s fast break off turnovers 6 times. He had 4 assists and slammed one home by himself.
He was also only one of two players to stay on court for all 40 minutes, while the rest his teammates got some time on the bench to catch their breath. Even late in those 40 minutes, he was still able to sprint down the court at full speed. It was proof that he had taken those off-season conditioning drills seriously.
When asked after practice, D’Antoni took notice of Fields’ improved physical shape.
“We expect a big year out of Landry,” D’Antoni said. “I do not see that as hanging over this year and I expect him to have a great year. He’s a very good, very efficient basketball player.”