Is Landry Fields Unique?

After three games the New York Knicks have a record of 1-2, which is consistent with a 27 win team across an 82 game season.  Such a record would be a little bit off the 29 win mark of the 2009-10 season; and if it stands (as if we could actually extrapolate from a sample of three), this record would leave more than a few fans of the Knicks disappointed.

When we look at efficiency differential – or offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency – we see a somewhat different story.  Currently the Knicks have scored 99.6 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 100.9.  These two efficiency marks are consistent with a team that wins about 37 games in an 82 game season.  In other words, the Knicks have clearly improved (assuming we can rely on a sample of three… which we probably can’t).

And when we look at Wins Produced…. oops, where can we get these numbers?  Sure, one could hand-craft the WP numbers.  But that takes time (more specifically, it takes my time).  Thankfully, this is no longer necessary.  The automated Wins Produced numbers from Andres Alvarez are now available for the 2010-11 regular season!!!  And I can’t tell you how cool it is to see these numbers on-line (thanks again to Andres!).

With number in hand, we can now look at how the Knicks have improved.

The WP leaders for the Knicks – after just three games – are as follows:

  • Landry Fields: 0.8 Wins Produced, 0.422 WP48
  • Wilson Chandler: 0.6 Wins Produced, 0.286 WP48
  • Ronny Turiaf: 0.4 Wins Produced, 0.256 WP48

The team’s Wins Produced is only 1.5.  And that means the rest of the Knicks are combining to produce wins in the negative range.  In sum, the Knicks “success” is almost entirely tied to two players (Chandler and Turiaf) who don’t start and a third player who wasn’t supposed to be in the NBA.  

Okay, the Knicks have only played three games.  So these numbers probably don’t mean much.  But these numbers do give me a reason to talk about that player that wasn’t supposed to be in the NBA.

A few days ago I noted that the numbers from college and a preseason do tell us something about what a rookie will do his first season in the NBA.  And these numbers indicated that Landry Fields is projected to be the second most productive rookie in the NBA in 2010-11.

Chad Ford – of ESPN.com – had an interesting comment, though, on how many NBA teams missed on Landry Fields.  Here is what Ford said on Monday:

On draft night, the Knicks caught me by surprise when they took Stanford forward Landry Fields with the 39th pick in the draft. Fields was in our database ranked as the 116th-best player in the draft. He’s the first American player ever to be drafted that wasn’t in our Top 100 since we started doing this in 2003.

Clearly, I blew it. Fields has earned a starting position for the Knicks and through three games is posting a very impressive 19.30 PER — better than both Blake Griffin and Cousins. How did I (and a number of NBA teams) miss so badly? Our Top 100 is based on the consensus of a number NBA scouts and executives. Fields wasn’t mentioned by any of them. He was so off the radar that he wasn’t one of the top 60 players invited by the NBA to participate in the Chicago predraft camp. The NBA selects participants based off of rankings by all 30 NBA teams.

But that’s not an excuse. One NBA scout, along with a source close to the Stanford team, called me and told me I was sleeping on Fields. I pulled down some tape from Synergy and frankly, just didn’t see it. Had I thought about him specifically for Mike D’Antoni’s wide-open system — maybe. But the truth is I thought he was a good European prospect, not an NBA one.

He’s proven me and the rest of the league very wrong in the early going. From all accounts he’s a very nice kid who’s working really hard. Here’s hoping he keeps it up over the course of his career.

The data on Fields – from college, preseason, and the first three games of this season – all indicate that he will be an above average NBA player.  Yes, this data is not perfect.  But given all these numbers, one wonders why Fields wasn’t mentioned by any of the scouts and executives Ford surveyed. 

Okay, I think we have some idea.  Numbers don’t play quite as big a role in player evaluation as some might think (even in the midst of the so-called “stats revolution”).  Players appear to be more often evaluated in terms of how athletic they appear.  Certainly this approach works for players like LeBron James and Dwight Howard.  But for the role players – and let’s face it, Fields may be a WoW star but he is probably not going to score enough to be considered an NBA star – the “staring” approach (i.e. we look at the player until we form an opinion) may not always work.

Given how often it appears that how a player “looks” trumps his numbers, one wonders how many more players like Landry Fields are out there.  How many teams are currently giving minutes to players who look athletic, but can’t produce? And how easily would it be for teams to find cheap and productive replacements?

I am not sure about the answers to these questions. But I have to think that Landry Fields is not the only Landry Fields teams could be employing.

- DJ

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