Chisholm: Fields experiment becoming another failed attempt

Tim Chisholm
11/8/2012 12:56:58 PM
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2006: Morris Peterson starts the first six games of the season at small forward, was yanked for Fred Jones and eventually Jorge Garbajosa would take over the position.

2007: Free agent signee Jason Kapono starts the first six games of the season at small forward then loses his spot to training camp invitee, Jamario Moon.

2008: Moon starts the first eight games of the season, and a smattering thereafter, before being traded with Jermaine O'Neal for Shawn Marion, who finished the season at the position.

2009: Free agent signee Hedo Turkoglu starts the season at small forward, is universally loathed by fans, is traded in the offseason to Phoenix.

2010: Free agent signee Linas Kleiza starts the first eight games of the season at small forward, was replaced thereafter by the minimum-salaried Sonny Weems.

2011: Free agent signee Rasual Butler (inexplicably) starts the first fourteen games of the season at small forward before losing his spot to James Johnson.

2012: Free agent signee Landry Fields has started the first five games of the season at small forward...

Notice a trend here?

Ever since Bryan Colangelo took over the Toronto Raptors in 2006, he has been befuddled by the starting small forward position on his team. He has spent lavishly on free agents in an attempt to plug that leaky hole in his starting lineup, but year-after-year his plans have backfired and it looks like the Landry Fields experiment is quickly becoming another failed attempt to solve the problem simply by throwing tons of money at it.

Through five games, Fields is averaging 2.4 ppg on 20 per cent shooting and is currently batting 0 per cent from behind the arc. In Wednesday's contest against the Mavericks, his confidence looked completely shot, as did his coach's confidence in him. Fields played just 19 minutes in the game, his fewest this season despite a steady downward trend in playing time since the season kicked off. In games earlier this season, his defence was allowing him to stay on the court but after letting both Kevin Durant and O.J. Mayo go off against him, not even his defence looks likely to save him from an eventual demotion to the team's second unit.

Part of the problem has been the fact that Fields' offensive strengths - running the court and making smart off-ball cuts - have been neutered considerably by Toronto's isolation and pick-and-roll heavy offence. It also doesn't help his cause that the starters he plays with aren't particularly heads-up when it comes to making quick passes to weak-side cutters.

A bigger problem, though, is that Fields just hasn't executed like the team needed him to through their first five games. He's missed easy two-point jumpers, he's botched lay-ups and the .393 he shot from three in his rookie year looks to be a very distant memory. He looks totally out of place right now and the team looks stymied as to how to snap him out of his funk.

Working in Fields' favour, at least for now, is the fact that there is no starting-calibre small forward waiting in the wings. The team could slide Alan Anderson into his place, but he would represent just another starter with offensive tunnel vision that doesn't have the size to match-up against opposing starters at that position. For now the team is better served hoping Fields can find himself - and quickly - by trying to run a couple of plays early that play to his strengths in the hopes that he can catch a rhythm that can carry him back onto a productive path.

If the club cannot revive him then perhaps Anderson does get elevated as a placeholder while Colangelo hits the phones and works desperately to get a capable replacement player into that spot. No one expected Fields to turn his role with the Raptors into an All-Star appearance, but he was supposed to be savvy enough to hold down the fort until the club could get a more significant upgrade at small forward lined up - be it this year or next year or the year after that. Instead, he represents the least productive member of the team's regular rotation and is a serious drain on their early-game performance.

Raptors fans have seen this movie before. They know the script and they know that a half-decent replacement usually manifests at some point, but that replacement usually only looks half-decent when set against the low standard set by the man he's replacing. I really thought Fields had a shot to bring a coalescing presence to the Raptors this season, so I'm not trying to act like I saw this as inevitable, but history has a way of repeating itself and Fields seems to just be the latest in Toronto's annual small forward disappointment-a-thon. He's got lots and lots of time to turn it around, but after six years of this it's hard to pretend that anyone is really holding out hope that he will.

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