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Copeland Brings Intrigue, Variety

by Mark Montieth |

July 15, 2013, 6:50 PM

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Based on salary, Chris Copeland qualifies as the centerpiece of the remodeling project on the Pacers' bench. Just what they are getting, however, seems a bit of a mystery.

He's 29 years old, which makes him the third-oldest Pacer at the moment. But, he's a veteran of just one NBA season, and appears to still be in the growth phase of his career.

He played exceptionally well at times with New York last season, including a couple of playoff games against the Pacers, but hardly played at all at other crucial times.

He's most obviously a shooter, a talent the Pacers need, and doesn't have great quickness. But, he appears capable of taking defenders off the dribble.

He doesn't have great size (6-foot-8) or bulk (225 pounds), but has a knack for scoring around the basket.

Got all that?

Above all, he's intriguing. He brings a great story, having persevered for six years after leaving Colorado in 2006 before making it to the NBA. He played in Fort Worth in the NBA's Development League, and then for teams in Spain, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium before signing a non-guaranteed contract with the Knicks last November.

Now, he's got his first taste of basketball security, having signed a two-year deal with the Pacers for a reported total of $6.1 million. But if that qualifies as “making it,” he isn't showing signs of slipping into the trap of assumption. He was scheduled to work out with former Detroit center Ben Wallace – who owns a similar story of delayed NBA gratification – on Tuesday, and will play in as many Pro-Am leagues as possible this summer.

Copeland averaged 8.7 points in 15.4 minutes for the Knicks last season while hitting 48 percent of his shots from the field and 42 percent from the 3-point line. Break down his stats into finer detail, and his game becomes more intriguing. He hit 56 percent of his 3-pointers from the right wing, but just 37 percent from the middle and left wing. He hit 45 percent of his 3-pointers from the left corner, but just 33 percent from the right corner. He's a poor mid-range shooter, but is effective around the basket, either as a post-up scorer or by taking defenders off the dribble. He hit 59 percent of his shots within the foul lane out to 10 feet. If that doesn't seem like a big deal, consider that Roy Hibbert hit 47 percent within the same area, while David West hit 55 percent.

Perhaps that last stat should be the most encouraging for Pacers fans. While his long-range shooting will be a welcome addition to a team that hit just 35 percent of its 3-pointers in the regular season and 33 percent in the playoffs, his varied offensive skills should provide an upgrade over last season's reserves. (Check out his arsenal in this highlight video from last season.) He's generally regarded as a small forward because of his perimeter shooting and ballhandling ability, but can be used as a so-called “four” in certain matchups. He would be a classic stretch-four, a player most power forwards would have difficulty defending on the perimeter. He even started a game at center for the Knicks when their lineup was depleted by injuries late in the season, and scored 32 points in a game at Charlotte. He came back the next game, the last of the regular season, to score 33 points while hitting just one 3-pointer.

Basically, he's versatile enough to defy slotting. His 3-point shooting will spread the defense and create attacking lanes for teammates, while his scoring ability around the basket will put pressure on smaller defenders.

“Last year I got put into a lot of situations where I didn't know I was capable,” Copeland said Monday when he met with local media on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor. “I'm a throw-me-in-there-and-I'll- figure-it-out type guy. Whatever you want to call that.”

The Pacers saw Copeland's steady emergence first-hand last season. He scored two points against them in the first meeting, eight in the second, 13 in the third and 20 in the fourth, when he hit 8-of-12 shots. Despite his strong finish to the regular season, he barely played in the Knicks' first-round playoff victory over Boston. He didn't play much early in the series against the Pacers, either, but was called upon when coach Mike Woodson went away from his “big” lineup. He scored 13 points in the Knicks' Game 5 victory at Madison Square Garden, hitting 3-of-4 3-pointers, and had nine in the Pacers' Game 6 closeout victory at the Fieldhouse, hitting 3-of-6 3-pointers.

Copeland is regarded as an average defender, but he doesn't commit many turnovers – just 0.9 per game last season. His Player Efficiency Rating (16.9) was higher than both of the Pacers' departed power forwards, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph. And, he appears to fit in with the team's selfless locker room culture. The emotional pain he felt in having to leave the Knicks, the team that gave him his first NBA break, was an indication of that.

Copeland's signing brings the Pacers' roster count to 14. They could still add a low-cost free agent without going over the luxury tax threshold. Their greatest need appears to be a more traditional power forward, and veterans such as DeJuan Blair, Jason Maxiell and Antawn Jamison are available. A trade is always a possibility, but for now they're most likely to stick with their current roster until training camp or beyond, when more players shake loose from other rosters and last-minute bargains can be found for non-guaranteed contracts.

Having added a player who provides flexibility, they believe they can be patient and maintain flexibility in their approach to the 15th and final spot.

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