There was a spring in Landry Fields's step as he left Mike D'Antoni's office after a late October practice. For a second-round draft choice, getting called in from the locker room to see the coach late in training camp can be anxiety-inducing. But when Fields sat down, he got surprising news. "This is usually the time I cut the 39th pick," D'Antoni told him. "But you are going to start." Says Fields, "The walk back was a glory walk."
Fields has rewarded D'Antoni's faith in him by becoming New York's most consistent player—and the best rookie not named Blake Griffin. Knicks president Donnie Walsh likens Fields's polished game to John Havlicek's. He can score (10.1 points per game at week's end) and shoot (51.7% from the field, 37.4% from beyond the arc). He leads the team in plus/minus (+112 through Sunday) and routinely draws the toughest perimeter defensive assignment. In December, Fields became just the third second-round pick ever to win back-to-back conference rookie of the month awards. Says D'Antoni, "He's 22 years old with the demeanor of a 10-year vet."
Where Fields really stands apart is on the glass. As a senior at Stanford he led the Pac-10 in rebounding, and this year ranks first among NBA guards (7.4 per game). He has 12 double-digit-rebounding games, including a 17-board effort against the Nuggets. Fields isn't particularly big (6'7", 210 pounds), but he has what D'Antoni describes as a "sense for where it's going to come off the rim." Says Fields, "When I got to college I wanted to do something to help the team. With rebounding, you get to be selfish."
Fields worked out for 15 teams before the draft yet watched as 16 swingmen were taken before he was. The knock on Fields was that his jumper wasn't great and he didn't play well in one-on-one situations. The Knicks—who did not have a first-round pick—showed the most interest, ranking Fields as a late first-rounder. "It amazes me how teams spend so much money watching guys play during the season but put so much stock in how they play one-on-one," says LSU coach Trent Johnson, who coached Fields for two years at Stanford. "There was never a doubt to me Landry was an NBA player."
The best may be yet to come for a late bloomer with a superior work ethic. Johnson recalls seeing Fields put himself through grueling workouts after games. Early this season New York coaches had to slow Fields down in practice because they felt he was pushing too hard. In college when his team sat down to review the previous day's game film, Fields had often watched it the night before. D'Antoni believes over time Fields will develop into a regular double double threat. "Whatever role you give him, he'll accept," says Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. "And he will find a way to get better. He hasn't reached his full potential."
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SCOUT'S TAKE A Big Bust?
Center DeMarcus Cousins was considered one of the riskier players in last summer's draft. Questions about his attitude and work ethic dogged him in his one season at Kentucky. Unbowed, the Kings took him with the fifth overall pick. At week's end the 6'11" Cousins was averaging 12.8 points and 7.7 rebounds for Sacramento, but one Western Conference scout told SI that he is still not a believer in him: "I don't think he has the will to play. He's a very skilled big man. He's got good hands, good post moves and he shoots the ball well. I've seen him knock down threes. But he's lazy. He takes way too many plays off. He needs structure and that staff isn't giving him any. He's got so much potential, but I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole. Somebody out there is going to pay him someday and once he gets his money, he's done. He will turn into Derrick Coleman."
Photograph by LOU CAPOZZOLA
RIGHT DIRECTION Among rookies, the versatile Fields is third in rebounding and scoring, helping New York to a 22--17 start.
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