With their 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals series nearly over and their backs against the wall, the New York Knicks decided to give reserve swingman Chris Copeland more playing time in a last-ditch effort to generate more offense against a dominant Indiana Pacers defense. “Optimus Cope” made the most of his increased playing time, scoring 11 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 60% shooting from three over the last two games of the series, impressing Indiana Pacers’ management in the process.
Last year’s Pacers had an incredibly efficient starting lineup, but its second unit struggled mightily on offense. Chris Copeland, who had excelled as a bench scorer in limited minutes for the Knicks, was seen as part of the answer to that problem.
Casual fans may not be aware of Chris Copeland, the sweet-shooting swingman who had previously played professionally in Belgium, Spain, Holland, Germany and the NBA D-League before finally landing in the NBA at the age of 28, but he could gain recognition this year as a key player on a team with championship aspirations.
In the 2012-13 season, Cope’s rookie campaign, he averaged 8.7 points and 2.1 rebounds over the course of 56 games. His per-game numbers don’t exactly jump off the page but he was remarkably efficient in the opportunities he was given and his numbers look much nicer when adjusted for playing time. Copeland’s averages come out to 20.3 points and five rebounds per 36 minutes, all on 47.9% shooting from the field and a very strong 42.1% from beyond the arc (he’s especially deadly on the right wing, where he made better than 56% of his attempts, per NBA.com’s stats database). Furthermore, during a brief stretch where Carmelo Anthony sat out injured, forcing Copeland into the starting lineup, he managed to score 16.1 points per game without a decrease in efficiency. While Copeland likely won’t be getting major minutes, especially with Danny Granger set to return from injury, he will undoubtedly be a regular part of the rotation.
Copeland is capable of playing both the small forward and power forward positions. He can be a matchup nightmare at power forward. While he may not be a great ball handler, he’s a clever offensive player that can create good shots against slower defenders. When matched up against small forwards, he has underrated footwork down low and can get points on the block as well. He’s more or less a “pure scorer” though. He’s not selfish on offense but he won’t pick up very many assists and he’s merely an adequate rebounder.
Defensively, he plays hard and has even shown a willingness to bang in the post when matched up against a much bigger man, but his lack of strength and agility limit his defensive abilities. When used in a bench unit featuring both him and the newly acquired Luis Scola, the Pacers could experience a fairly significant drop-off on the defensive end. The Pacers are wagering that their offensive skills will be enough to make up for it.