In sports, reputations are made during the most critical junctures of the season, most prominently in the playoffs.
As the Knicks come to the conclusion of the regular season, still clawing to secure a spot in the playoffs, opportunity abounds. The two players with the most to gain or lose are J.R. Smith and Landry Fields. Smith seems ready and willing to accept the challenge. The jury is out on Fields.
Both are athletically endowed. The 6-foot-6 Smith, an eight-year veteran at only 26 years old, is a Type-A personality who feeds off the pressure and excitement that comes with playing in New York during the heat of a playoff race. He affirmed as much by netting 25 points off the bench on Tuesday night at the Garden in the Knicks’ 118-108 victory over the Boston Celtics, helping lift his team to 32-29.
The Knicks have four regular season games remaining, three on the road. Fields, at 6-foot-7, has the tools too but hasn’t demonstrated the fearlessness or “I don’t give a damn” attitude that has been both a blessing and curse for Smith.
While Fields doesn’t possess Smith’s offensive arsenal, he is a talented player who has stagnated, arguably regressed, since the first half of last season, making his status with the team beyond this season tenuous. In particular, Fields has struggled offensively.
Coming into Tuesday, Fields had started 58 of the Knicks’ 60 games but was averaging only 8.4 points. He was shooting a respectable 46 percent overall but an alarming 25 percent on 3-point attempts (28-112). In 19 minutes versus the Celtics, he was merely 1-3 for two points.
“I’ve gotta help him because he’s not playing with a whole lot of confidence,” said Knicks coach Mike Woodson after Fields went 2-8 for just four points in a 93-85 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday. “But I need him in there because he does a lot of good things from a defensive standpoint,” reasoned Woodson. “Offensively…I have to put him in a better position to score the basketball.”
“I just think it’s about getting my rhythm,” responded Fields, somewhat disturbed when asked about his perceived lack of self-assurance. “Some nights I’ll go out there and try to be the main offensive threat [and] I’ll get my looks. That’s just the way I feel about it.”
Negative or positive, reputations will be earned by Smith and Fields right now.