Landry Fields is in his second year with the Toronto Raptors. Last year he showed spurts of what he could do, but was limited due to a variety of injuries. He was also trying to adjust to a new role on a new team in a new city. With those injuries and rust put behind him, Fields looked to start the 2013-2014 season on the right track.
Fields emerged as a favourite for Head Coach Dwane Casey off the bench and was often called upon first to substitute into the game. Fields would come in and play smart basketball to go along with tight defense. His presence on the court helped the Raptors on both sides of the floor and he was starting to earn his $18.7 million contract. All was going great for Landry, from being the sixth man to becoming a leader. He was starting to get back to the way he played in his rookie season. Then something happened. Dwane Casey reduced his minutes…drastically. Once receiving 15-25 minutes per game, Fields now finds himself on the outside looking in, struggling to even get into the game. So what happened? What led to Fields being benched?
For the first eight games of the season, Fields was averaging around 17 minutes per game. He was averaging 5.3 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, and 1.6 assists per game. He was shooting 46% from the floor and only turned the ball over five times. Now these aren't eye-popping numbers, but Fields was playing very efficiently and was contributing in many aspects of the game.
Fields has never been a scoring presence, but his defense and rebounding are two of his best attributes. Standing at 6'7 and roughly 215 pounds, Fields has the ability to guard up to four positions on the court and can outrebound many players his size as he does a good job of positioning himself. On offense, he certainly isn't a first or second option to score the ball, but he makes great decisions. He can handle the ball well and unlike other players at his position, he keeps the ball moving instead of stalling. Fields does a great job of finding the open man and making the right pass at the right time.
So you're probably wondering, if Fields was as good as we say he was, why doesn't he play anymore? That's a question we're trying to find the answer to. Sure, Steve Novak returning from injury may suggest some minutes being taken away from Fields and Terrence Ross is certainly deserving of his fair share, but what about the rest of the bench? Amir Johnson will get his minutes now that he's coming off the bench and the back-up point guard role is up for grabs. With DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay playing upwards of 35 minutes per game, all of a sudden there's not many minutes to throw around anymore.
It's all starting to make more sense. It's not really something that Fields did wrong that's keeping him out of the lineup, it's something that the other players are doing right. Although Fields contributes in other areas, Terrence Ross and Steve Novak provide instant offense off the bench. While Novak may be a liability at times on defense, Dwane Casey likes to have him out there as he is capable of spreading the floor and knocking down the open three pointer.
The one problem with this strategy for the Raptors is that most of the games they have lost hasn't been because they can't score the ball, it's been because they can't defend and they make poor decisions. The Raptors have many players capable of scoring the ball, but lack the ability to get easy buckets and stop their opponent. These two things that the team lacks is what Fields excels in. He does a great job cutting to the basket and he keeps the flow moving on offense allowing for easier buckets for this teammates. On defense, he can guard the best player on the team as seen in his efforts against former-Knicks teammate Carmelo Anthony.
So is it time for Fields to get back into the rotation? Absolutely. In fact, he should be placed in the starting lineup. A lineup of Lowry-DeRozan-Fields-Hansbrough-Valanciunas is more than capable of producing offense and having Fields as another ball handler will benefit the rest of the team, causing them to force less shots, along with creating easier opportunities.
If Fields were to start at small forward, Rudy Gay would have to come off the bench. Now we've heard it all before – "A player making $20 million/year can't come off the bench!" Why does it matter who starts the game? It only matters who finishes it. A bench consisting of Terrence Ross, Rudy Gay, Steve Novak and Amir Johnson would be amongst the best in the league. Having Rudy Gay come off the bench would put him up against the other team's secondary players, which should create easier scoring opportunities for him. Just because he isn't starting doesn't mean he still can't play 30-plus minutes per night. He would still get his minutes and his shot attempts and would relieve some pressure off of Terrence Ross to be the go-to-guy off the bench.
This may not be a popular opinion, but we think it's certainly worth a shot. Start Landry Fields and have Rudy Gay come off the bench. The Raptors are 6-11 right now and have no momentum moving forward. Why not shake things up and see if you can get something positive going?
Let us know if you think Landry Fields should be starting or if he should continue coming off the bench in a limited role. Do you have a better starting lineup in mind?
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