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NEW YORK -- Landry Fields would not be starting for the New York Knicks if not for a fateful decision made 25 years ago by his father, Steve, who had been selected in the seventh round of the NBA draft by Portland in May 1975, but was waived by the Trail Blazers late that summer.
Steve Fields was close with Cavs forward Jim Cleamons, now an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, and arrangements were made to have Fields come to camp in Cleveland to try out for a spot on that Bill Fitch-coached team.
But Fields also had an offer on the table from an ABA expansion team, the Baltimore Claws, and he chose the land of the red, white and blue basketball over the NBA.
"Like an idiot," he said, "I said, 'No, I think I've got a better chance going with this new ABA team.' Little did I know."
The Claws ended up folding before playing a single game in what would be the ABA's final season, and Steve Fields wound up playing semipro ball for Armstrong Cork (now Armstrong Floors and Windows), a job that entailed doing 14 weeks of training in Lancaster, Pa., before he was assigned to Bellevue, Wash., where he played pickup ball in a crew that included Slick Watts, John Brisker and Fred Brown of the Seattle SuperSonics.
|During pre-draft workouts, Landry Fields made an impression with his 39-inch vertical leap.|
Steve moved from there to California, where he met his wife, Janice. They went on to raise three children, putting a hoop up in their driveway in Long Beach where their two sons, Evan and Landry, would spend countless hours shooting with their cousin Cameron Jones, now a senior playing for Northern Arizona.
"When the kids were young they'd say, 'Gee Dad, why didn't you stay in NBA?'" said Steve Fields, who played in the summer pro-am leagues in Los Angeles alongside Michael Cooper and Lorenzo Romar. "And I said, 'You better be glad I didn't, because you wouldn't be here if I did.' So I guess fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it, has brought us to where we are now."
Where we are now is a situation in which Landry Fields, the 39th overall pick in last June's draft after leading the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding at Stanford, is one of only four rookies from the draft class of 2010 starting for their NBA teams. (The others are Washington's John Wall, Minnesota's Wesley Johnson and the Clippers' Eric Bledsoe, who is temporarily replacing the injured Baron Davis.)
Fields won the Knicks' starting spot at shooting guard when coach Mike D'Antoni decided Wilson Chandler would be better utilized to provide some scoring punch off the bench, and Fields has played well through the Knicks' first six games. Heading into Tuesday night's game at Milwaukee, Fields was averaging 8.7 points (seventh among rookies), 5.5 rebounds (sixth among rookies) and shooting 56 percent (third among rookies). In 150 total minutes, he has committed only 11 fouls and just three turnovers.
"He's not making mistakes, he's an efficient shooter and player, doesn't turn the ball over," D'Antoni said. "When you have guys who are going to score, Amare [Stoudemire] and those guys, you need someone who's efficient.
"If [Fields] does something, it's positive. There's not a lot detracting from what he does. He's a heady basketball player that'd be good anywhere if you're looking for chemistry things, what glues which five guys together."
Half of the NBA got a good up-close look at Fields prior to the draft, as he worked out for 15 teams from mid-May until the end of June while he wrapped up an online class to complete his communications degree at Stanford. (He had endured three straight years of summer school to position himself three credits shy of graduation for his final semester.)
"I think I had my highest vertical here," said Fields, who left a lasting impression on the Knicks' scouts by leaping 39 inches. "I remember I got here a day early and I had a day off, so that might have helped."
On draft night, after the first 20 picks, team president Donnie Walsh asked each of the 10 members of the Knicks' scouting department to make a list of the 10 players they felt would be available at picks 30 through 40.
After the 30th pick, Walsh asked the employees for a new list: their top five picks, in order of preference. The votes were tallied, and Andy Rautins of Syracuse (whom New York chose 37th) was first, followed by Fields.
"I wasn't there for his workout, so I said, 'Put on some film,'" Walsh said. "And I watched the film and said 'Wow!' Then I'm reading: 39-inch vertical, averaged 22 points per game, he was top in the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding, and I said, 'This guy shouldn't be coming all the way down to us.'
"I asked why this guy was available, and I was told the Pac-10 was down, it wasn't a good year for the conference. And I said, 'OK, if the ACC is down, does that mean there's no good players in the ACC?'"
Fields left a strong impression on the Knicks' summer league staff, with coaches telling D'Antoni he would have a hard time finding reasons to take Fields off the court. And after experimenting in the preseason with a Raymond Felton/Toney Douglas pairing as his starting backcourt, D'Antoni gave Fields a shot in the starting lineup alongside Felton in the final exhibition game. Fields won the job.
"He's a really intelligent guy and player, great temperament, doesn't get too high, too low. Works hard, knows how to play, he's confident, and he was the most fit guy on the team when he came in from the West Coast," Walsh said. "We have a way of testing and measuring fitness, and Toney had been first, but this guy was more fit than anybody. And I look at his body now and it's better than when he got here. The way he's approaching this is perfect for a guy trying to impact an NBA team, and I think he's going to get better and better."
When Fields won the starting job, he was unable to immediately call his dad because the Knicks were in Canada to play the Raptors, and Landry had not activated an international calling plan for his cell phone. But the two eventually spoke, and the elder Fields passed along one piece of advice, a brain exercise he had taught his son years before.
"Take a deep breath, stay mentally in this thing," Steve Fields said. "When you get to the arena, look around and find all four corners of the arena, and only be in that space mentally for that time. It's concentration. Be in every moment in every play, and you'll see what's happening."
"Yeah, he tells me that. Go to center court, look around, and be involved in everything in here," Landry Fields told ESPN.com. "I consciously do that -- it's a real fast, real quick thing, just something I do. Then I try to be even-keel, not put too much pressure on myself, let everything come to me."
His stats are not gaudy, but his mistakes over the Knicks' first six games can be counted on one hand. Even if he stumbles, or hits the rookie wall, or is part of a Carmelo Anthony trade, Fields is an everyday NBA starter -- something that 56 draftees from 2010, including three of the top five picks last June -- Evan Turner of Philadelphia, Derrick Favors of New Jersey, DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento -- cannot say.
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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