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Pacers Add Weapon Off Bench in Copeland

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

July 14, 2013

The Pacers went looking for answers to bolter their bench this offseason and they believe they’ve found another in Chris Copeland. Four days after announcing that David West was back and that point guard C.J. Watson had signed with the club, Copeland’s two-year deal (as reported by several outlets, including Yahoo Sports and the New York Times) finally became official on Sunday.

Usually, Pacers owner Herb Simon doesn’t like his team to get involved with restricted free agents because the player’s previous team has the right to match any offer. This time was different, however, because while the New York Knicks technically had three days to match the Pacers’ offer, they couldn’t because of salary cap restrictions.

Copeland, 29, is an intriguing player in that he just completed his rookie season in the NBA. Before sticking with the Knicks, he first joined the D-League’s Fort Worth Flyers. Over the next five years, he played professionally in Europe (Spain, Germany and Belgium) until he finally received a non-guaranteed contract from the Knicks last summer.

Photo Gallery: Chris Copeland »

In his first season in the NBA, Copeland averaged 8.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game while shooting over 42 percent from 3-point land. When the Pacers and Knicks did battle in the conference semifinals this postseason, Copeland was utilized sparingly but when he did see the court, he punished the Pacers. In those six games, where he averaged less than a dozen minutes, he connected on 55 percent of his outside shots (11-for-20). The more he played, the more he produced.

When Larry Bird announced at a news conference last month that he was returning as team president, he made it clear that they had to bring in free agents to shore up the bench. It was a problem in 2012 when they lost to the Miami Heat in the second round, and it was a problem again last year when they bowed out in seven games of the conference finals to the Heat.

“For us to talk about beating the great teams in this league, you’ve got to have a stronger bench,” he said. “Our bench didn’t produce last year the way we needed them to produce. We definitely got to fix that one area.”

Non-starters produced a measly average of 24.1 points per game last season, ranking 29th in the league, ahead of only Portland. Far too many times when Pacers coach Frank Vogel went to his bench players, even just two or three at a time, there was a clear drop-off. Whatever lead they had evaporated and if they were down, there was no reason to believe a fresh group off the bench would provide a spark. Late into the season, he made the decision to keep at least one starter on the floor at all times to minimize the damage.

Copeland can be one of many guys to rejuvenate the team during games. At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds with long dreadlocked hair, Pacers fans will surely see some Sam Perkins in him (Copeland even wore the number 14 in New York). Copeland’s percentage last season from behind the arc (42.1) would have been easily the Pacers’ best on roster. With just under 100 attempts, Orlando Johnson paced the team with a 38.3 percent clip.

The Pacers hope this new second unit they are forming of Watson, Stephenson or Granger, first-round pick Solomon Hill, Copeland and Mahinmi is just what they need to put them over the top. In free agency, they’ve addressed nearly every need except for the backup power forward spot, formerly filled by Tyler Hansbrough with Jeff Pendergraph getting some minutes there, too. Both signed elsewhere so it wouldn’t surprise to see Copeland get some time as a “stretch-4,” able to space the court with his shooting. Vogel has said this offseason they plan to implement a few changes, with zone defense at times an option. A new lineup philosophy with the bench could quite possibly be another.

Outside of getting West to re-up for another few years, the next challenge for the Pacers’ front office in July was to upgrade their lowly bench. Copeland, a sharpshooter with years of professional experience, appears to be a big step forward.

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