Knicks’ Rookie Chris Copeland Can Score
On an injury-riddled New York Knicks team, a 29-year-old rookie forward has been filling in some of the gaps, mostly because he can score. Chris Copeland isn’t necessarily a favorite of head coach Mike Woodson because of his defensive deficiencies, but this older rookie has shown he can contribute.
“Copeland is one of those guys who has a unique ability to score the basketball,” Knicks center Marcus Camby said. “He is a guy who I don’t think really knows the game that much from an all-in-all standpoint, but putting the ball in the hole is what he does well. Here Coach Woodson stresses defense a lot, so Coach gets on him about his defense. I am one of the guys who talks to him and tries to stay in his ear to stay positive because [Woodson] is kind of hard on rookies and Copeland is not the best defensive player in the world.”
Copeland doesn’t play every game and his minutes vary widely, even with all of the injuries, but already this season the rookie has led his team in scoring on two occasions. While his production off the bench is usually insignificant, Woodson has started Copeland nine times and that’s when the rookie has really thrived. In those nine starts, he has averaged 13.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in just 23.3 minutes per game while shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 45.9 percent from three-point range.
“If he could get 20 minutes, I think he could get 18-20 points” Camby said. “He may give up some points because he doesn’t know the game defensive-wise, but he has a knack for scoring the basketball and he can do it a variety of ways. Threes, jumpers, driving to the basket, posting up and getting to the free throw line and I think if he gets a good opportunity to play a certain amount of minutes and other teams start to see him play, then he can earn a lot of money in this league.”
An undrafted senior out of Colorado in 2006, Copeland has played professionally in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Spain and the NBA D-League. His college numbers didn’t suggest he would be a reliable scorer as a professional – he averaged just 12.1 points during his senior year – but in 2012 with Aalstar in Belgium, he averaged over 20 points per game on better than 57 percent shooting and over 40 percent from deep. For the luxury-tax-restricted Knicks, Copeland was a find.
Copeland knew he wasn’t going to play every game and his minutes would be inconsistent. However, the Knicks are an older team that has players with a history of injuries so Copeland knew he had to be prepared for playing time.
“One thing that has been a constant all year long is to be ready,” Copeland said. “Sometimes I played, sometimes I didn’t, but it was all about keeping my mind ready and focused on the game and learning on the sidelines the times I didn’t play.”
Being on an older team also has its advantages. Copeland is surrounded by veterans who have been willing to help their rookies along.
“These guys help me on a daily basis to keep my mind right,” Copeland said. “You have a lot of ups and downs as a rookie, new to the league, lot of things you have to learn and it gets frustrating at times, but my teammates helped me big time. Everybody from the oldest to the youngest has had their hand in helping me be successful on the floor. The guys that help me the most, as far as vocally, I would say are Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin since he’s been here. Everybody’s had their piece, like little bits and pieces here and there, things they can help me with. They say they see potential in me, so they want to help me out as much as they can, so I’m just trying to grab a little bit from everybody.”
Potential isn’t the word most people associate with a 29-year-old basketball player and perhaps Copeland’s offensive game is close to a finished product, but this 6’9 combo-forward still has a lot of room to develop at the other end of the floor. Copeland just doesn’t have the experience defending NBA level talent, but that doesn’t mean the tools are not there to become a much better defender.
“He is not a young guy and has been playing overseas, but overseas basketball and NBA basketball, I feel, is like night and day,” Camby explained. “I just feel like the level of competition here is so much higher, especially on the practice court when you are going against Carmelo [Anthony] every day. Sometimes he is at the four and he has to go against Amar’e [Stoudemire], so he’s taking quite a beating in practice, but I feel it is only going to make him better.”
“The biggest area I think I need to improve on, everybody says, is defense,” Copeland confirmed. “That’s something I’m learning through actual action on the floor, from watching film and just advice from teammates, so that’s the biggest thing all year long. I’ve been trying to grow. My jump shot is my jump shot and I don’t think at 29 now I can change that, but I can learn how to be in the right spot at the right time.”
On a Knicks team loaded with veteran star players that has the ability to attract impact free agents like Martin midseason, it can be easy to overlook an older rookie like Copeland. However, Copeland has made contributions to the Knicks this season with his ability to score and if the veterans can help the rookie improve on the defensive end, Camby’s belief that the soon-to-be free agent Copeland could earn a lot of money in the NBA might come true a lot sooner than anyone expects.