“… another shitty draft by Walsh.”
– Jon Abbey, June 24th, 2010
Carlos Boozer, Gilbert Arenas, Nick Van Exel, Cedric Ceballos, Michael Redd, Rashard Lewis, Clifford Robinson, Antonio Davis, Mo Williams, Manu Ginobili. What do these players all have in common other than being members of NBA All Star fraternity? They all have the dubious distinction of being passed over by every NBA team on their draft-day free-fall to the second round.
Historically, the second round of the NBA draft is where good college players go to disappear. Very few second rounders make an NBA team, let alone significantly contribute to one. Since the NBA went to a two round draft system in 1989 an average of only 6.5 second round draftees manage to log 3500 minutes in any given year. That means roughly 20% of second rounders last over three years in the league and contribute more than sporadic garbage minutes as roster-filling practice dummies.
So when draft day 2010 rolled around and the rebuilding Knicks, armed only with two second rounders (no 1st rounder courtesy of legendary franchise destroyers Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury), prepared to fill their depleted roster with a few minimum salaried non-guaranteed players, the hopes that fans had was to find somebody who could contribute something, anything really, at the NBA level. The Knicks went on the clock at 10:46 pm to make their first of two selections. They announced the selection of Syracuse guard Andy Rautins at 10:49 pm, followed by the selection of Stanford swingman Landry Fields at 10:51. The announcement was met tepidly by Knickerblogger posters, to say the least…
“Who is Landry Fields!!!!!!!!!” – massive
“I have never been more disgusted…well, at least since Frederik Weis.” Z-man
“Anyone else pining for the Smiling Weasel right about now???” –TDM
“bring back thomas, bring back thomas.” –Thomas B.
Presumably Thomas B. was referring to Isiah and not himself with his chant, and if so, he no doubt was remembering one of Isiah’s rare coups as dictator of the Knicks—his plucking of NBA rotation player Trevor Ariza mid-way through the second round in 2004. Still, though, the idea of pining for the days of Isiah Thomas shows just how nauseous the Knickerblogger community was feeling over the selection of the unknown Landry Fields. It was clear that sentiment fell in favor of the athletic 7-footer Solomon Alibi or top high school recruit and Lincoln High legend Lance Stevenson, both still available. Field’s was so unheralded he wasn’t even on Chad Ford’s top 100 prospects (or on Ted Nelson’s even more thorough “Knicks Draft Prospects” list!).
But as the fervor of the moment began to wane, some cooler heads started to whisper. The Honorable Cock Jowles was the first official member of the Landry Fields bandwagon when he wrote: “Hate to say this, but according to PAWS40, Fields might be a steal”. Moments later KB’s longtime voice of reason, Caleb went out on a limb and said: “I am going to be a contrarian and say this Fields thing might be smart.”
Well, one month in and it’s time to take a look not at whether this Fields thing is smart, but just how smart it is. After 18 games, all starts, Landry Fields has not only exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic Knick fans. He has completely obliterated them.
So, how good has Landry Fields been? A Priori, I guessed that Fields’ first month was, statistically, probably the greatest first month any second round draft pick had ever had, ever. Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer both struggled to find minutes during their first month in the league. Michael Redd barely played at all his entire first season. Same with Rashard Lewis. Manu Ginobili, arguably the greatest second round selection of the era, was good, but was he better than Fields? With a sample size of 1/5th of an NBA season to judge him by, let’s compare his rookie season thus far to Spurs super star Manu Ginobili.
What has set Fields apart from Ginobili, so far, is his fantastic rebounding and his unbelievable scoring efficiency. In many ways, his first month has been Ginobili’s first season on steroids—a TS% 70 points higher to go along with double Ginobili’s rebound rate. And Ginobili, a 25 year old rookie, had already played on some of the most competitive international teams in the world, whereas Fields had just come from a bad college team playing is a sub-par conference.
So, it is clear that whether he projects out to be better than Ginobili or not, he is clearly a great find at the #39 pick. Smart, as Caleb suggested way back in June. Very smart. But is Fields’ remarkable first month truly the greatest first 18 games any second round pick from the last 20 years has put together?
Because of the low expectation that comes with second round picks, few get much playing time, let alone starting minutes. Field’s minutes, alone, put him in a conversation with only a few other second rounders. Only twelve second round picks have ever averaged 26 minutes or more over their first 18 games. These players aren’t the Boozers and the Michael Redds of the league, though, but rather guys like Sherman Douglas, Mario Chalmers, Cuttino Mobley, Trenton Hassell, Sean Rooks, and Chris Duhon. In other words, guys who proved useful early on, but never transcended their niche to become stars. The good news for fans of Fields, though, is that his numbers thus far easily out-perform all of these guys, placing him far closer to Ginobili than to Mobley or Hassell.
On the other hand, though, Fields’ first 18 games are eerily similar to the first 18 games of Luc Mbah a Moute. The 2008 #37 pick, Mbah a Moute was an unheralded 22 year old coming out of the PAC 10 (sound familiar). He assumed the starting 2 guard position during the second week of his rookie season and averaged per 36 numbers of: 8.9 rebounds, 1.03 assists, 1.2 steals, and 11.5 points, in 29 minutes per game over the first month.
Not to diminish Luc Mbah a Moute—he’s a great second round find—but he’s also no Manu Ginobili. If Fields is teasing Knick fans the way Mbah a Moute teased Bucks fans, the Landry Fields love train could lose steam by year’s end.
So, where exactly does Landry Fields’ first month rank, statistically, with other great second round selections? Assuming he stays healthy and continues at the pace he’s on, he is thus far a runner-up with these guys. And who boasts the greatest rookie season by a second round draft pick in the past twenty years? It happens to be a different Landry, currently with the Sacramento Kings and a pivotal piece to the Jarred Jeffries jettison. Carl Landry, the 31st pick in the 2007 draft put up a remarkable 21.4 PER with a .641 TS%. He grabbed 10.5 rebounds/36, and WS48 of .251, good for fifth in the league, just ahead of LeBron James.
But Carl Landry isn’t a star, and since becoming a primary option in Sacramento hasn’t even been very good. Will Fields career project upward from here? Could he one day be seen as the greatest second round find since Manu Ginobili?
Time will tell. But whether his first month is for real or if he comes down to earth as the season progresses, one thing is certain: This was not “another shitty draft by Walsh”.