Player Review 2014: Chris Copeland
Years Pro: 2
Status: Has one year remaining on his contract.
Key Stats: Averaged 3.7 points on 47 percent shooting from the field – 42 percent from the three-point line – while appearing in 41 games.
Chris Copeland found the sure path to popularity last season: don't play as often as expected, and keep a good attitude about it.
Copeland generated a buzz when he chose the Pacers in free agency last summer. He was coming off a rookie season with New York in which he had averaged 8.7 points and hit 42 percent of his three-pointers, and seemingly brought a much-needed dimension to the Pacers' offense. He had started 13 games for the Knicks, had scored 29 points in his second start, and then 32 and 33 in the final two games of the season. He would back up David West at power forward and get the minutes that had gone to Tyler Hansbrough the previous season.
Photo Gallery: Chris Copeland Season-in-Review
Thirteen days later, the Pacers traded for another, more proven power forward, Luis Scola. Suddenly, Copeland was a third-stringer, bound for the bench, destined for garbage time. He played in just half of the games, and for an average of just 6.5 minutes when he did play. But when he played, he usually played well enough to stoke the fans' fire.
He scored 13 points while hitting 3-of-4 three-pointers in his first significant opportunity, a 16 ½ minute appearance at Chicago in the 10th game of the season, the Pacers' first loss. He would play double-figure minutes in just eight games, and in those games he averaged 10 points while hitting 19-of-36 three-pointers.
His two best opportunities came when coach Frank Vogel rested the starters late in the season. He used those opportunities to further tease the fan base. He scored 18 points while hitting 7-of-8 shots (4-of-5 three-pointers) at Milwaukee, including the game-winner on a drive to the basket. And, in the final regular season game at Orlando, he played a season-high 26 minutes and scored a season-high 19 points, hitting 5-of-11 three-pointers.
All of that wasn't enough to earn a spot in the playing rotation for most of the playoffs. Copeland drew a DNP in the opener against Atlanta, and most of his minutes came in garbage time moments, such as in the season-ending Game 6 loss at Miami.
Adjusted to a per-36-minute basis, Copeland's season was remarkably like the previous one in New York. The only difference between the two was the fact he played less than half as many minutes with the Pacers – and that's when he played at all.
“Why isn't Copeland playing more?” was one of the season's mantras. Even Larry Bird voiced his desire to see more of him, both early in the season and in his postseason session with the media. Vogel, while, pleased with Copeland, regarded Scola as a better all-around player and didn't believe Copeland was suited defensively to play small forward.
Copeland further won over the fans, though, by showing enthusiasm on the bench and never uttering a complaint to reporters. He had worked too long and hard just to get to the NBA for that. He had toiled in the D-League for a partial season after leaving Colorado, and then in Europe, finally breaking through with the Knicks at age 29. It's still too new to him to take for granted.
“I'm so excited about being part of something special,” he said early in the season. “Am I a competitor first? Sure. But I'm happy to be here.
“You always want to play, but Luis was such a great pickup for us. I respect the guys at the top for putting together such a great team.”
It remains to be seen if Copeland will be as accommodating if he has to endure another season like the last one. But it also remains to be seen if a move is made that allows him more playing time.