Earlier today, the Knicks announced they were assigning James White and Chris Copeland to the D-League. In the case of White, it makes sense; there’s a bit of a log jam at his position, and he needs to get playing time in any way possible. But Copeland? That one came out of left field. He’s been the biggest surprise on the team this year, putting up 29 points on Monday, and shooting the ball extremely well. Copeland has shown that he can thrive when given significant playing time. Why the Knicks chose to respond to that by demoting him is beyond me.
When Copeland played brilliantly in the preseason, I figured it was probably just a beautiful mirage. He was succeeding against inferior preseason competition, and while he might be a passable bench player, there was no way he could contribute significantly to a contender.
Boy, was I wrong.
Admittedly, Copeland still hasn’t seen that much playing time, but when he’s been on the court, he’s been wonderful. His 29 on Monday was just the ultimate expression of we’ve known for some time: that Copeland is a very good basketball player. He was asked to fill in for Carmelo Anthony, and his game actually looked a bit reminiscent of Melo’s. He was unafraid to drive the ball to the hoop, and he excelled on jump shots as well. He looked like a great natural scorer, who could contribute a lot of points if the Knicks needed him too. Granted, the Rockets still ended up winning 109-96, but Copeland is the last person anyone would blame for the defeat.
On Wednesday, Melo was back in the lineup, and Copeland’s role was significantly reduced. Still, he managed to put in eight points, while shooting 3-for-4 from the field. His first two shots were both threes, and each instance, the shot was guaranteed to go in as soon as it left Copeland’s hand. He’s a great natural shooter, and he can hit from any distance. More importantly, he has no problem adjusting to whatever role he is asked to play. On Monday, with Anthony out of the lineup, the Knicks needed a high-volume scorer, and Copeland filled the gap. With Anthony back on Wednesday, Copeland understood that he needed to take a backseat to the Knicks’ superstar. He still shot the ball when he got it, but he knows better than to demand the ball a lot in situations when Anthony is on the court. Copeland’s knows his role, and more importantly, he doesn’t mind if that role changes on a night-to-night basis.
Of course, the biggest problem with getting overly-excited about Copeland is that we have a very small sample size. He’s only played 135 minutes all season, hardly enough for us to have a full notion of how good of a player he actually is. Additionally, some of his more impressive numbers are likely to go down as he accumulates more minutes. He’s currently shooting 54.7 percent from the field, which is an extremely high number for a small forward, and one that he is unlikely to sustain over time. Even Lebron James and Kevin Durant don’t shoot that well.
So, yes, any excitement about Copeland should be tempered with the reminder that we haven’t seen him play this well for a significant period of time. With that said, I have no problem saying that I think Chris Copeland can be a very productive player in the NBA. The most impressive thing about his performance this season hasn’t been the numbers themselves, but rather, how he’s been able to accumulate them. When you watch him play, none of his success feels remotely fluky. He has an incredibly smooth shot, and his willingness to attack the basket makes him very difficult to defend. If you give him a decent shot, he’ll make it. If you get in his face, he’ll move past you and put in an easy layup. Copeland’s considerable offensive skills are obvious to anyone who has watched him this year. He has the necessary talent to play very well on a consistent basis. Some of the particularly gaudy numbers will decrease over time simply due to the law of averages, but his natural skill set suggests that this is more than a fluke.
Considering how fun Copeland has been to watch, it’s disappointing that he’s going to waste his time in the D-League. This makes no sense; the D-League is where players go to improve their games; Copeland is already a legitimate player who can give the Knicks more than several of their bench players. He gives can so much more than Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace, or even Steve Novak. They have the bigger names, but Copeland is a much more complete player. Hopefully, he’ll be called back to the big show soon, but for now, this is a serious bummer. And right before Christmas, too!
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