The Rise of Copelandia

Guest Post from Jacob Donnelly

With a 12-4 record the Knicks seem to have put together a nice equation that works more often than it doesn’t. The Knicks bring two point guards to
start, they have a lethal guard come on as the 6th man, and when they need some fresh size, Rasheed “Ball Don’t Lie” Wallace comes on and plays old-school basketball.

But on Sunday the Knicks got their first taste of what happens when that size off the bench is suddenly unavailable. Wallace was ejected after just 85 seconds of play for committing two technicals in a row: One for continuing the play when he saw Luis Scola trying to finish his shot and a second for barking, “Ball don’t lie!” when Scola missed the free throw.

Under normal circumstances Kurt Thomas would come in but he was resting and, at 40, the man needs his rest. So what about Marcus Camby? Ironically, the man who everyone wants to get minutes was unable to play because of a sore foot. Now we’re in a sticky situation: No Amar’e Stoudemire, no Kurt Thomas, no Marcus Camby and no Rasheed Wallace.

That’s a rough situation to be in.

With no one else to go to, Mike Woodson went to 28-year-old rookie Chris Copeland to try and give some punch to the Knicks’ 2nd quarter. And it worked.

In ten minutes, Copeland racked up 8 points on 4-5 shooting, had a couple of dimes, blocked a shot, stole the rock, and had a few boards—including two on offense. As Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting said on Twitter, “It’s Copelandia.”

But who is Chris Copeland?

After the game, I decided to get a better idea of who this 28-year-old player was and why, after so many years away from the NBA, he was given the chance to get some grind on the sport’s biggest stage with a team built to go all the way.

Unlike many one-and-done NBA players, Copeland spent all four years in college. He didn’t play very much during his first two years, only averaging about 8 minutes and a handful of points per game, but his minutes jumped to about 25 per game during his junior year. He simultaneously became a much more lethal part of the offense, scoring about 12 points per game on 44.5% shooting.

After graduating he went undrafted in the 2006 NBA Draft. He spent a little time with the D-League Fort Worth Flyers but soon decided that his time was better spent playing overseas. In October 2007, he signed with the Spanish CB L’Hospitalet. Later that month, he signed with Matrixx Magixx Nijmegen in Belgium. While playing with Matrixx he was selected to the Dutch All-Star team.

In 2008, he signed with TBB Trier, a German team. He played there until 2010 until finally joining a Belgian team, Generali Okapi Aalstar.

In his 2011-2012 season, Copeland shot just shy of 60% from within the arc; from 3P range he hit 41% of his shots. Copeland led Aalstar to the 2012 Belgian Cup title, averaging 20.1 points and over 3 assists per game and quickly gaining the attention of scouts.

The Knicks invited Copeland to their 2012 Summer League and we got a taste of the type of player he was. He averaged under an assist per game and shot 47% from the field—specifically, 40% from the 3-point arc.

However, when he came to play with the Knicks in preseason, he had an awful opening game. He committed five fouls in just 15 minutes of action. He was left him on the bench for the first half of the next game but, when he was finally put in during the second half, he put up 21 points against the Wizards. He even had a 34-point explosion against the Boston Celtics in pre-season.

All of this history is great but one of the knocks on Copeland is that when he has the ball, it ends with him. He tends to shoot the ball when it hits his hand. It makes for a more stagnant type of basketball—and that’s not something Woodson is going to really cope with.

But then Sunday happened. Copeland came in and shot 80%. But, rather than forcing shots like he normally would have, he dished it out. He twice found Steve Novak open for a three. Had Novak hit a wide-open 3-pointer, Copeland would have had a third assist.

Here’s the real problem, though: Copeland isn’t going to have much longer to prove his worth. Amar’e Stoudemire will be returning shortly and he, like Copeland, is a strong scoring forward. With that much size suddenly available—Camby, Thomas, Stoudemire and Wallace—there’s little room for a prospering rookie.

The Knicks, however, are a team that isn’t getting any younger, so there just might be a possibility for Copeland to show himself every once in a while. And since “Ball Don’t Lie” could rear his head at any time, he better be ready. As Coach Woodson has said on numerous times, “Hang your egos up … and do the most you can with the minutes you get.” Copeland showed on Sunday that he can do that.

Jacob has been a Knicks fan for all his life and can remember watching with his grandfather during the 90s. He’s co-founder of Curave, a daily newsletter that finds the best, hidden NBA content from around the web.