Stock Rising: Landry Fields

He wasn’t made for this, not originally. The glitz, the fame, Spike Lee sitting courtside rocking his jersey on a nightly basis. None of this was supposed to be in Landry Fields‘ wheelhouse. That is, until he made the nation take notice of just how ready he really is.

You can find the feature printed below in our newest issue, Dime #68.

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While his prep peers across the country gobbled up the media attention, YouTube mixtapes and NBA-hype predictions, Landry Fields quietly worked. Growing up, his destiny was laid out in much simpler terms; basketball was a game, not the be-all, end-all. In fact, his first recruitment letter in high school didn’t arrive until junior year – and from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. – not exactly the basketball Mecca that he now runs with the New York Knicks. He ended up with an offer and commitment to Stanford, for the obvious academic gains, even when more storied programs like Arizona and Gonzaga came calling late.

“I was just an unknown,” says Fields, calling from his Miami hotel room the night before he would drop 14, seven and five on South Beach’s finest. A game his team would also drop, the eighth loss in a vicious nine-game stretch for the Knicks. “I played with a local team in Long Beach and that was about it. Then I went to high school and just tried to make my way from there. I was playing freshman ball my freshman year and then with the varsity sophomore-through-senior year. I had to climb the ranks by myself.”

The son of two former collegiate athletes – who got their burn at Miami-Ohio (Dad) and Highline Community College (Mom), respectively – Fields recalls he was always good, but never dominant.

But here he is; a second-round pick from 2010 who has started all but two games in two years for the nation’s premier basketball club. Only John Wall – the highlight machine, face of Reebok and No. 1 pick in that same draft – has logged more career minutes than Fields in their respective draft class. Not bad for a player who wasn’t even invited to the NBA’s pre-draft combine before New York took him 39th overall.

Oh, and the boos. Holy hell did the Garden boo. In a picture now worth more than a few laughs, a young Knicks fan, decked out in a blue wig and orange face paint, threw his hands to the sky in utter what-the-hell-is-going-on desperation as deputy commissioner Adam Silver read Fields’ name from the podium.

“Why, God? Why did you send us the steal of the draft?”

What New York ended up getting with that 39th pick turned into a starter averaging 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for their first playoff team in seven seasons.

“I was brought into a real good situation,” says Fields about his rookie year. “So I was blessed to come to New York and actually have that opportunity to play. If I had gone anywhere else, it might not be that same story for me.”

His college coach concurs.

“I don’t think people watched or studied him enough to determine the type of value he could have at the next level,” says Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins, who helped develop Fields over two years in Palo Alto. “That’s why I was really, really excited about the Knicks because I thought they really did their homework. They spent a lot of time – they came to see him multiple times, spoke with us and asked us questions to really get some insights on what we felt he could do – and ultimately took a chance on him in the second round.”

What also goes unnoticed is the fact that Fields subscribes to the manta every coach preaches: team ball, not me ball. He’s a subtle assassin on the floor, and while he doesn’t appear particularly monstrous in any single category, his 6-7 frame reaches nearly every line on the stat sheet. What makes him so dangerous is that opposing teams have to pick their proverbial poison.

“I look at basketball as there are so many different aspects of the game, and you don’t have to be (dominant) in just one thing,” says Fields. “You can go out there and help out the team in a lot of different areas. If it’s not points, then maybe it’s defense or rebounding, assists, making good cuts, screening well – all kinds of different things, and even things that don’t show up in the stat book.”

“Like most young players, he has to fit into the system rather than be the focal point of the system, but he’s done a great job of taking what the defense gives him,” adds Jeremy Lin, Fields’ Knicks teammate and longtime friend from the Bay Area. “Landry does everything on the court from scoring, rebounding, assisting and playing defense, so that helped him make an extremely quick transition into the NBA.”

Now that his rookie year is over, the real fun begins for Fields and his Knicks. With expectations in the tri-state area as big as the city itself coming into this season, the pressure has been mounting. And as this issue went to press, the Knicks of new have looked a lot like the Knicks of old, starting the year with a lowly 8-14 record. Even with Fields starting to come on strong as of late – averaging 13.9 points over his last nine games – the team still looks unsure of itself. It’s a problem that hasn’t seemed to correct itself since the appropriately dubbed “Melodrama” completely dismembered and reorganized the franchise last February.

With the arrival of Carmelo Anthony and departure of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Ray Felton and Timofey Mozgov, came the popular opinion that wins – and consequently championships – would follow. A year later, the Nuggets are unquestionably one of the best all-around ball clubs in the league, and the Knicks have found themselves in shambles across the board – even after the addition of free agent Tyson Chandler. A major reason why is consistency.

“It’s been different,” says Fields on why New York has struggled to come together thus far. “From the team that I originally came in with, to the new guys transitioning from last year to this year – and with the lockout and everything – it kind of hurts not to spend a training camp and preseason games to kind of work out the kinks offensively and defensively. I think that could be part of our struggles right now.”

Take it as you will, but Fields is right. A major reason for New York’s woes is the fact that through everything, they’re still just not that used to playing with each other. Not every team can come together like the Celtics did in 2007-08 with their trio of All-Stars and become immediate contenders. But even through a rash of injuries and inconsistent team play on both sides of the court, Fields has continued to make the most of his minutes. One night, he’s penciling in 18 points and seven assists against Denver, and another, he’s grabbing five steals with another 18 points in a win against Detroit. His high basketball IQ is a major reason for his improvement, but it’s his work ethic that has raised his offensive game higher – even if the transition to a ‘Melo-led offense has stifled Fields’ rebounding percentages to an extent (from 6.4 last year to 3.8 per game).

“Personally, I think we have all witnessed Landry’s progress,” says Andy Rautins, Fields’ former Knicks teammate and one of his best friends, who’s currently hooping overseas for CB Lucentum Alicante in Spain. “At first, he shot out of a cannon, making a smooth transition from college to the pros, leading the league in rebounds as a guard, scoring and defending well and embracing his status on the team as a great role player. He is the kind of guy who makes those adjustments, as he is showing, and helps a team win. He’s very versatile.”

That versatility, and “an amazing appetite to get better” according to Coach Dawkins, will make Landry Fields a very desired commodity for his NBA years to come. But will it always be in New York? While he has held down the starting shooting guard spot seemingly since Day 1, Fields will also become a restricted free agent this summer. It’s no secret that he fits well into Gotham’s build for the future – Dawkins, Lin, Rautins and Fields all agree as such – but is that same future built on stable ground?

Maybe the Knicks did give up too much in the Denver trade. Maybe the biggest fishbowl of a media market has placed more pressure on this team to win than is fair. More likely, it’s far too early to tell what the Knicks’ future will hold, even as much as we would all like to prognosticate. What is clear is that Fields should remain a cornerstone of the franchise. Because with as much as the bright lights and All-Star names dazzle in the Big Apple, a guy like Fields keeps you grounded in playing the right way.

“I mean, I would love to stay with New York, that’s the whole plan right now,” says Fields when asked about his future. “But I’m only going to focus on one game at a time.”

It’s the smart answer – the only answer, really. The kid did go to Stanford after all.

Hit page 3 to see more art from our exclusive photoshoot with Fields…

All photos courtesy of Dorothy Hong.

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