Posted Feb 18 2011 6:58AM
Ask Landry Fields if he'd love a Draft do-over, where he'd surely go in the top three and make roughly $4 million more than he does now, and you get an answer much like his rookie season: unexpected.
"No," he said. "I know that sounds crazy. But I landed in the right spot, with the right team, and being bypassed in the Draft gave me the right motivation that I needed. I'd rather be with the Knicks."
For the most part, he has the same response when asked how he might look in a Nuggets uniform this time next week.
"Um, I like being with the Knicks," he said.
Fields is the most pleasant surprise of his Draft class so far, a largely ignored scorer from Stanford who used his status as a second-round pick to fuel a bust-out rookie season. He leads all guards in rebounding at 7.1 per game (almost two more than All-Star starter Dwyane Wade, who is second-best among guards) and unlike many of the 38 players taken ahead of him, is a major part of a winning team.
The New York crowd, starved for something and someone to cheer for, has gravitated to Fields because of his humble and ordinary-guy persona. Given his obvious intelligence as a Stanford grad, and his blue-collar approach to the game, he reminds the New Yorkers of a player from glory years past. Is he the second coming of Bill Bradley or John Starks? It's far too early to predict, but perhaps so.
Just the same, his youth and talent make him an asset, and could drive him out of town shortly after tonight's Rookie-Sophomore Game at All-Star Weekend.
The Knicks are thick in the hunt for Carmelo Anthony, and as they prepare a package for a possible trade by the Feb. 24 deadline, Fields is exactly the compensation the Nuggets would find attractive in dealing 'Melo: a young, radiant player who's only begun to tap his potential.
Of course, Fields has obvious value to the Knicks. They could keep Fields, wait until next summer, hope Anthony signs as a free agent and be a lot closer to championship-contender status than without Fields.
That Fields is even mentioned in trade talk, and is a part of All-Star Weekend, is enough for him.
"If you asked me last year if I'd be here, I'd say oh, no, I'm just trying to make the Knicks' rotation," he said. "This is unreal. Every day, I give thanks. It's really a blessing. A dream, actually."
This weekend is a blissful homecoming for Fields, who grew up in Los Alamitos, 30 minutes from Staples Center (45 minutes if Interstate 405 is clogged) and idolized Kobe Bryant. He went to Stanford and played with the Lopez brothers, Brook and Robin, who are starting centers for New Jersey and Phoenix, respectively.
After they left, he led the Pac-10 in scoring as a senior at 22.0 points per game, good for eighth in the nation. But when the 2010 Draft came, he went 39th, well after guards such as Avery Bradley (19th), James Anderson (20th), Dominique Jones (25th) and Jordan Crawford (27th).
But Fields had an excellent summer and fall camp, and before long began climbing up the Knicks' rotation. The team was instantly sold on his work ethic, uncanny rebounding instincts and ability to create his own shot opportunities. He started New York's season-opener against Toronto and hasn't looked back since.
"It worked perfectly, because the system with the Knicks fits my game," said Fields. "Maybe I wouldn't have had so much instant success somewhere else. It was just a terrific situation. And the fans, they've really embraced me and that also helped my confidence."
On a great team, which the Knicks aren't, Fields would be a much-desired role player, someone to provide help in a number of areas. And that's why his place in the 'Melo talks are intriguing.
Would the Knicks over-value Fields by refusing to include him in a trade to get an All-Star? And if Melo goes elsewhere, say the Nets, and winds up signing long-term with that team, would the Knicks regret it?
So Fields will play in tonight's T-Mobile Rookie Challenge not knowing for sure what uniform he'll wear next. At least he'll have the satisfaction of knowing where he stands on the team he'll suit up for tonight. With the exception of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Evan Turner, would anyone else go higher in the draft than Fields right now in a do-over?
Derrick Favors and Wesley Johnson, who went No. 3 and 4, respectively, are having issues with inconsistency. Only Blake Griffin, the No. 1 pick from the 2009 Draft, plays more minutes (37.9 per game) than Fields, who is at 32.6 mpg.
Fields' role in New York, too, is bigger than that of most of his rookie brethren, a good portion of whom are toiling for losing teams, anyway. He is helping to push the Knicks toward the playoffs, somewhere New York hasn't been since 2004.
At the moment, that's what Fields is doing. We'll check back Thursday to see what he's doing and who he's doing it for.
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