The small Forward position, as it tends to be, is filled with intrigue this year. The Raptors went out this summer and added Landry Fields to the fold. He provides defense, high basketball IQ and the ability to mesh with anyone you put on the floor with him.
His path to Toronto is well documented. The short version of the story goes something like this.
The Raptors and Bryan Colangelo really wanted Steve Nash, but it looked as though Nash was going to head to the Knicks in a sign and trade deal that centered around Landry Fields. The Raptors quickly moved to sign Fields to an offer sheet they knew the Knicks couldn’t match which effectively eliminated them from contention for Nash. Toronto was then seen as the clear front-runner for Nash’s services until the Lakers entered the fray, stole Nash away from Toronto with promises of championship glory and the Raptors were left with a pretty large contract offer to Landry Fields which he was then signed to.
Some contend the Raptors contract to Fields was a huge mistake and will set the franchise back. Others, myself included, feel that while they overspent to get Fields, he brings a work ethic and defensive presence that will markedly improve this team and will specifically bring tough wing defense, something the Raptors have not seen for a long time. Though more expensive than he should have been, the Raptors are still likely to get decent return for their money.
The Toronto Raptors haven’t really had a strong presence at the Small Forward since the days of Tracy McGrady. Recent starters have included (in no particular order) Jason Kapono, Jamario Moon, Hedo Turkoglu, Shawn Marion and Sonny Weems.
While the small forwards for the Raptors have had varying degrees of success, a few (see Turkoglu) were cataclysmic failures, but none made a significant impact for the club during their time as a starter.
Landry Fields may change that.
Fields is known around the NBA as a hard worker, a defensive presence and good teammate. His his focus on the defensive side of the ball will certainly come in handy for a team that has had significant issues guarding the perimeter over the years.
Fields is a positive personality and will certainly endear himself to the Toronto media. Truth be told, he already has.
But that contract….
Many pundits, bloggers and journalists choose to focus on the length and cost of the contract Fields has. To be fair it is an expensive and longer term deal for a guy with only two years of experience under his belt, but certainly not a contract that is going to cause cap issues for a long period of time and it is likely flexible enough to become a tradeable asset if the situation presents itself.
Fields is an upgrade at the position and if he can improve on his woeful 3-pt shooting he could become a solid offensive piece to the Raptors game plan going forward as well.
If not, the Raptors have a host of solid pieces to back Fields up and offer the Raptors a number of different matchup possibilities.
Linas Kleiza is a pure scorer who brings instant offense off the bench. There are some in the Raptors fan base that believe he should have been the starter to maximize Fields defense on the second unit with Jose Calderon, a noted deficiency on the defensive end. Though Kleiza has had great success internationally, he has yet to put it together consistently for the Raptors. He’s been injured and inconsistent in his time in Toronto, but still offers the Raptors great flexibility. He is a natural small forward and can also slide over to the 4 if need be and create a strong smaller lineup when Casey wants to go small.
If Kleiza can shoot the ball well and play the way he did in the World Championships then he may see increased minutes throughout the season, maybe even some time in the starting lineup. Especially if Fields struggles on the offensive side of the ball where he has not been as effective.
Alan Anderson is another interesting option for Dwane Casey off the bench. The journeyman really impressed the coach in limited time last season and continued his strong effort throughout the pre-season. Anderson is a smart and savvy veteran who knows what his role is. He provides strong defensive ability (like Fields) and can score, mostly because he has a knack for getting into great position to score.
Dwane Casey is going to have struggles at times finding enough minutes for everyone, but he has something a lot of coaches do not have: options. He can pull out an almost pure scorer in Kleiza or go for defense with Anderson and Fields. If he wants to go small he can easily move Kleiza over to the 4 and both Fields and Anderson can slide over to the two if need be.
Casey has a great deal of depth at his disposal and can utilize it to exploit the matchups he wants. The fact that these three players are versatile enough to play other positions and do not usually get into foul trouble could mean that we could see any of the three on the court in various positions.
The forward position is sure to be a strength for the Raptors and it is clear that with Landry Fields in the starting role the focus will continue to be on the defensive side of the ball.
Landry Fields will get his opportunity to prove fans and doubters wrong even if he isn’t a high scoring small forward in the mould of Tracy McGrady.
Hey, at least he isn’t Hedo Turkoglu.