**This editorial was written by Knicks Journal contributor, Zach Horst. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zd183.**
After an exciting rookie season, it seemed Landry Fields’ potential was sky-high - an excellent rebounding guard who was explosive around the rim and could knock down open shots. His struggles up to this point suggest a “sophomore slump” is the perfect way to describe his season.
Still, it’s easy to recognize Fields’ intelligence and savvy for the game, as well as his hustle (hence Spike Lee’s nickname for him, “Muddy”). His faults often are not “mistakes,” per say, rather just lack of talent. Instead of turnovers or dumb fouls, his main weakness is not being able to hit the open shot.
After emerging as one of the top-rebounding guards in the first half of last season, it’s understandable his numbers have gone down. Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler both account for most of the rebounding now, and thus, Fields is less needed down low. His 4.2 rebounds per game is still a respectable number for a guard/small forward hybrid. In addition, his averages in both steals and blocks have hovered around last season’s numbers as well.
Most of Fields’ grief this season has come from his long-distance shooting - it has been, plainly, awful. He hits corner threes only 20% of the time, and all other three’s just 27% of the time. For a shooting guard, these are unacceptable numbers. Upon first glance, it seems he is simply a very poor shooter. While this can certainly be argued, I believe he is just being utilized incorrectly.
Fields is shooting a respectable 43% from mid-range this year - an improvement over 40% from last year- yet only 15% of his shots are taken from this area. Conversely, nearly 25% of his shots are from three-point range. He is constantly placed beyond the arc to either knock down threes or pump fake and drive into traffic. It is clear the first half of last year was an anomaly for Fields. His three-point shooting in college was always poor, so the Knicks cannot expect it to get much better than it currently is.
Fields is built as a slasher. He is excellent at moving without the ball, and thus, scores most of his points at the basket. Mike Woodson needs to develop his mid-range game in order for him to be effective. In New York’s thrilling 113-112 victory over the Hawks on Sunday, Fields came up in the clutch by knocking down 7 of 8 fields goals (including three shots from downtown), good for 18 points. Though he did hit shots beyond the arc, Fields’ biggest strength still comes from his ability to cut to the basket. If Fields is unable to develop a shot from deep, Coach Woodson will only hurt the team when he puts the sophomore in position to shoot the long ball. Instead, Fields needs to be fed off curls and screens around the elbow for 15-foot jumpers.
Evan Turner, shooting guard for the 76’ers and the second overall pick in Fields’ draft class, plays his game in this exact way. Surprisingly, he is built almost identical to Fields in both height and weight. Turner, like Fields, is poor at shooting from downtown. He combats this, though, with the brilliant tactic of never taking three-pointers. Instead, Evans has become a weapon on the offensive end with mid-range jumpers. He is shooting roughly the same percentage as Landry from this area, yet they account for a much larger percentage of his shots on the season - nearly 50%.
Fields will never put up 20 points a game in this league, but he can certainly be a valuable piece of the puzzle for a contending team. He’s an extremely durable player who hustles every night, fighting for rebounds, loose balls, and tip-ins. He also always plays with intelligence on the court. These are the intangibles and invaluables many players not only on the Knicks, but in the entire league, do not possess.
The Knicks have other scoring threats and lockdown defenders, but Fields still has the ability to bring a consistent, hard-earned, 12 points and 6 rebounds every night as a utility player. The coach needs to support him with consistent playing time, and if he does, I guarantee Fields’ determination will help bring the Knicks to another level.