We last profiled the other older-than-usual, out-of-nowhere Knicks rookie, so it makes sense to transition directly to the other. Like Pablo Prigioni, Chris Copeland was an total unknown when the Knicks scooped him up. Most of us figured he wouldn’t make much of an impact, he’d spend most of the season as the 14th or 15th man, playing garbage time and look cool while doing it. And for a lot of the season, that’s exactly what Copeland was, but just like Prigioni, he proved himself to be much more valuable than most could have reasonably expected.
The numbers: 56 gp, 13 gs, 15.4 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 42.1 3-point %
This season, Copeland proved he can score at the NBA level. He showed he’s versatile enough that he can play both as a spot-up 3-point shooter and as a one-on-one isolation threat. Early in the year, Copeland did some damage in garbage time. Almost every team has one of those guys, the ones that come in when games are out of hand and look great and make fans think “Hey! This guy should play more!”
In December in a blowout loss to the Rockets, Copeland scored 29 points in 28 minutes. Mike Woodson rewarded him in the Knicks’ next game with 23 actual, meaningful minutes against Brooklyn, and Copeland scored 8 points, making both of his 3-point attempts. In fact, the Brooklyn game was the only during a six game stretch which Copeland didn’t score in double figures. So while it seemed as though the fans were right (again) in the thinking that Copeland could be a real rotation player. Problem was, it took Mike Woodson until March to truly believe that, and honestly was probably forced into it because of the team’s rash of injuries. Out of Copeland’s final 23 regular season games (starting March 9), he played double-digit minutes in 18 games, and scored double-digit points in 13.
This late season surge earned Copeland a spot in the Knicks’ starting lineup in Game 1 of their first round series against the Boston Celtics. It didn’t go very well; the moment may have been too big for Copeland, understandably so. He played 12 nondescript minutes in Game 1, nine in Game 2, a single minute in Game 3, and didn’t score. He didn’t play the rest of the series. He continued to struggle early in Round 2 against Indiana, but late in the series got some more minutes and made good use of them. Over the final three games vs. the Pacers, Copeland averaged slightly over nine points per game, making 9-of-17 from deep.
Best moment: I bet if you ask Chris Copeland he’d probably say the entire season, given how long his journey to the NBA was. I mentioned earlier the March/April run, and that’s probably what most-changed the perception of Copeland in the eyes of the coaching staff. You knew he could score, as evidenced by his garbage-time exploits. The end of the season proved that he was capable of being a valuable, consistent rotation player if given the time.
Lowest moment: It’s really hard to pick one of these for a 28-year-old who played all over the world just trying to get on an NBA roster and not only finally did, AND proved he belonged, but also proved he’s pretty good. I don’t think I will. No raining on parades here.
But the Celtics series, I guess? Meh.
All in all: Pretty amazing that Knicks fans will feel slightly crushed if Copeland isn’t in blue and orange next season. Copeland isn’t without his faults, clearly. His individual defense is certainly below-average at best and downright poor at times. He doesn’t rebound very well. For all the fan complaints about Carmelo Anthony stopping the ball, the only player on the team who comes close to Anthony’s tendency to do so is Copeland. And it’s not that he’s not effective in isolation, it actually might be when he’s most dangerous, but we shouldn’t kill Carmelo Anthony (maybe the best scorer in the league) for it and not at least point it out in Copeland’s case.
That aside, Copeland can score at this level. Any team will take a guy who that can come off the bench and put the ball in the hoop. I think we saw enough from Copeland this season to reasonably expect him to play 15-20 minutes a night. Problem is, other teams believe this, and Cope is a free agent. The Knicks have to decide whether he’s worth the mini-MLE ($3.183 million per year) and then hope that he’s not offered more elsewhere.