Chris Copeland’s surprising NBA career now includes even-more-surprising third act

19 Comments

Chris Copeland is leading an NBA team in scoring.

Chris Copeland – who never led his college team in scoring – is leading an NBA team in scoring.

Chris Copeland – who was cut from two European teams in two months – is leading an NBA team in scoring.

Chris Copeland – who didn’t make even an NBA summer-league team until age 28 – is leading an NBA team in scoring.

Early in a season where the sample is small enough to create more than a few oddities, this one of the more interesting twists. For one, Chris freaking Copeland is leading an NBA team in scoring. For another, there’s at least an outside chance this sticks.

Just two years ago, not even diehard NBA fans had heard of Copeland. He’d toiled overseas after a solid, though unspectacular, four years at Colorado. Then, he got a summer-league invite from the Knicks and played well. That led to a training-camp invitation from New York, and he played even better in the preseason.

For so long, Copeland’s primary goal was just making the NBA. His mom used to hang pictures with the word “NBA” around the house. In his first season in Europe, Copeland said he thought too much about the NBA, and that undermined his focus on the court.

But after the dream looked so distant, a 28-year-old Copeland made the Knicks’ roster two seasons ago.

Since 1970, 2,881 players have broken into the NBA. Just 36 made their debut at such an old age.

If Copeland’s journey ended there, it would have been a great story. He overcame long odds to fulfill his dream. Everyone could have gone home happy.

But Copeland didn’t stop there.

“As you reach one goal, you set new ones,” he said.

Copeland played well for the Knicks. He scored 8.7 points per game and finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting – the highest place for someone so old since a 31-year-old Arvydas Sabonis ranked second in the 1996 voting.

Last offseason, Copeland signed with the Pacers, where his role shrunk drastically. After expecting to serve as the primary backup power forward, Copeland saw Indiana trade for Luis Scola to fill that role. Copeland ranked 14th on the team in minutes.

Again, if his story ended there, it would have been a satisfying one. Not only did Copeland topple all the obstacles he faced to reach the NBA, he had a little success while in the league. He’d always have that, even if his career fizzled.

But a funny thing is happening this season. The Pacers – who lost Paul George (to injury) and Lance Stephenson (to the Hornets) – need Copeland, and he’s delivering in a way he never has before. The forward is averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game.

Here’s every NBA team’s scoring leader, sorted by their highest-scoring season entering this year:

image

Unfortunately for the Pacers, such a reliance on a player of Copeland’s caliber has gone as well as you’d expect. Indiana is 1-6 – the NBA’s worst record, non-Philadelphia division – with its only win coming over the 76ers.

But that’s hardy Copeland’s fault, and it’s scary to think how much worse the Pacers would be without him.

Indiana’s offensive rating, a decent 106.6, with him on the floor collapses to a dreadful 75.6 while he sits. No other leading scorer can match that 31-points-per-100-possession boost.

Here’s each team’s offensive rating with its leading scorer on the court (blue) and off the court (yellow):

image

Leading scorer On Off Boost
Chris Copeland (IND) 106.6 75.6 +31.0
James Harden (HOU) 111.7 84.9 +26.8
Stephen Curry (GSW) 107.3 87.8 +19.5
Anthony Davis (NO) 105.1 85.6 +19.5
Greg Monroe (DET) 108.1 90.5 +17.6
Gordon Hayward (UTAH) 111 95.4 +15.6
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) 111.6 96.6 +15.0
Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) 116.6 105.2 +11.4
Carmelo Anthony (NY) 103 92.2 +10.8
Kevin Martin (MIN) 105.1 95.5 +9.6
DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) 106.4 98.1 +8.3
Marc Gasol (MEM) 101.4 93.1 +8.3
LeBron James (CLE) 103.6 95.9 +7.7
Isaiah Thomas (PHO) 106.8 99.2 +7.6
Joe Johnson (BRK) 111.6 105.2 +6.4
Tony Wroten (PHI) 95.1 89.7 +5.4
Reggie Jackson (OKC) 99.3 94.3 +5.0
Jeff Teague (ATL) 104.6 100.1 +4.5
John Wall (WSH) 102.5 98.4 +4.1
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 110 107.9 +2.1
Chris Bosh (MIA) 108.8 106.7 +2.1
Jimmy Butler (CHI) 109 108.2 +0.8
Jeff Green (BOS) 107.1 107.1 0.0
Kobe Bryant (LAL) 103.1 104.5 -1.4
Blake Griffin (LAC) 105.3 109.6 -4.3
Al Jefferson (CHA) 95.6 100.1 -4.5
Tony Parker (SAS) 95.5 100.1 -4.6
Nikola Vucevic (ORL) 95.3 101.2 -5.9
Ty Lawson (DEN) 96.3 102.4 -6.1
Brandon Knight (MIL) 89.5 112 -22.5

Not only is Copeland making such a large impact, he’s doing so while learning a new position. He’s mostly played small forward this year after working primarily as a stretch four.

At small forward, his strengths – pulling a big man to the perimeter, taking a defender off the dribble – are less pronounced, maybe even to the point he loses his edge. He’s versatile enough to post up smaller players and take advantage on the offensive glass, but his forte still seems to be playing stretch four.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel believes this experience – serving as a go-to option, playing a new position – will only better equip Copeland once he returns to a smaller role, and that should happen soon enough. Two of last year’s starters, David West and George Hill, have yet to play this this season and are expected to return this month.

When they do, will Copeland maintain his status as the team’s leading scorer?

West (14.0 points per game last season) and Hill (10.3) could take the mantle, and so could Roy Hibbert (10.8), but none of those three returning starters seems particularly great fits in a go-to role at this point. Rodney Stuckey, who averaged 13.9 points per game for the Pistons last season, was a trendy pick to lead Indiana in scoring, though he’s battling his own injury issues.

I’d take the field over Copeland (or any individual), but Copeland has put himself squarely in the mix.

How did someone who doubted his ability to play in the NBA until he actually put on a Knicks jersey come this far?

It’s easy to see how all those setbacks motivated Copeland to reach the league. It’d seem a chip on his shoulder would take him only so far once in the NBA, though.

But Copeland, who said he thinks daily about the lessons he learned in Europe, insists his pre-NBA years have helped him succeed in the league just as much as they helped him reach it.

“If I didn’t play overseas, if I got a real shot early,” Copeland said, “I would have failed.”

Instead, he’s thriving.

Copeland has joined just eight others who’ve played three seasons in the NBA after breaking in at such an old age – Pablo Prigioni, Fabricio Oberto, Billy Thomas, Pat Burke, Zeljko Rebraca, Dean Garrett, Sabonis and Charlie Criss.

In the final season of a two-year, $6,135,000 contract with the Pacers, Copeland, now 30, will again have to convince someone to sign him this summer. But his big numbers this season should ensure that happens.

What could have been a cup of coffee in the NBA has turned into a career.

“I don’t know if this is the best I’ve played. I think I can play better than I have,” Copeland said. “But we’ll see.”

James Harden broke on of his youth camper’s ankles (VIDEO)

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s around the time of summer when NBA players (and coaches, and college coaches, and a whole lot of other people) are holding youth basketball camps.

I went to them as a kid (John Wooden’s was the best) and like me, these youth will have the memories of a lifetime, even if they move away from playing hoops someday. Especially this boy, who will forever be able to look back at this video from camp of James Harden breaking his ankles. (Via Houston Rockets Instagram)

View this post on Instagram

Meanwhile at @jharden13’s camp…😅

A post shared by Houston Rockets (@houstonrockets) on

Meanwhile, over at Dwyane Wade‘s camp, he was reminding some young children he is the best shot blocking guard of all time.

 

Could Anthony Davis someday play for hometown Bulls? ‘I’d definitely consider it’

AP Photo
2 Comments

Not every player wants to go home.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland (for a while). Kawhi Leonard and Paul George pushed to get back to Southern California. However, plenty of players see the return to their home town as more curse than blessing — it takes a maturity to be the face of the city, to not let hanging with your old buddies get in the way of off-season workouts, to handle everyone you went to high school with asking you for tickets to the game. A player has to be ready for a lot to go home.

Would Anthony Davis consider a return to Chicago to lead the Bulls?

He wouldn’t rule it out. Someday. Here’s what Davis said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

“I mean, (this is) definitely hometown,” he said. “If the opportunity ever presents itself and when that time comes, I’d definitely consider it.”

That does not mean next summer. Technically Davis is a free agent next summer, however, he is all but certain to re-sign with the Lakers (it’s possible things go Dwight Howard/Steve Nash bad in Los Angeles and Davis wants out, but it’s highly unlikely). Davis pushed his way to Los Angeles to win and lead the biggest brand in basketball down the line, to have his name in the rafters with legendary big men (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq). He’s not bolting that after one season.

Could he finish his career in Chicago? Maybe. I’d say the same thing about Stephen Curry with Charlotte, but we are too many years from that to make any kind of prediction.

However, Davis didn’t slam the door shut. Maybe someday that will be good news for Bulls fans.

Newly minted Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard quickly faces Bradley Beal questions

Getty Images
1 Comment

While ownership danced with Tim Connley in Denver and Masai Ujiri in Toronto, Tommy Sheppard spent the past few months trying to clean up a mess of a Washington Wizards roster and, more importantly, their messed up salary cap situation.

There was only so much Sheppard could do considering John Wall‘s supermax extension kicks in next season (and runs four seasons) and the team will pay Ian Mahinmi $15.5 million. However, Sheppard got Washington below the tax number by trading Dwight Howard and letting three players — Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, and Jabari Parker — just walk. He then tried to add inexpensive and interesting talent to the roster, such as Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, and Moritz Wagner. It was all those moves that ultimately got the “interim” tag taken off his GM job title, reports Chase Hughes at NBC Sports Washington.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a “trial run,” according to a person familiar with the process.

However, the biggest test comes next Friday, and how Sheppard and Wizards ownership handle it will define the course of the franchise for years.

On July 26 (Friday), the Wizards can — and by all indications will — offer Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million contract extension.

Beal likely turns it down.

That’s the growing sense around the league. While part of his motivation may be questions about the future direction in Washington, there are also cold financial reasons to say no — Beal makes more money if he waits. Maybe even to the point of becoming a free agent in 2021. Our own Dan Feldman broke it down this way (future estimates based on salary cap projections by the NBA):

• Sign this 2019 extension: $111.8 over three years ($35.1 million per year)
• Make All-NBA next season and sign a super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Leave Wizards in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

Beal can afford to bet on himself and wait, he just turned 26 and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games each of the last two seasons).

How do Sheppard — and Wizards’ management — react when Beal says no is the question. That is the real test Sheppard faces.

Part of that reaction will be based on what Beal and his representatives say: Do they turn down the offer and say Beal wants to be traded?

Or, do they turn down the offer and say, “Beal wants to stay but will wait because he wants a super-max contract?” (Beal finished seventh in All-NBA guard voting, with the top six making the All-NBA, he is right on the cusp.) This may be the most likely option, Beal cannot get the super-max contract if traded.

If/when Beal turns the Wizards down, Sheppard’s phone will start ringing again with teams testing the trade market waters for Beal. There is tremendous interest in him from across the league.

How Sheppard handles those calls will start to set the tone for what is next in Washington. What the Wizards do with Beal — and John Wall, out for the season with a torn Achilles and already on his super-max — will define Wizards’ basketball for years to come.

Kosta Koufos heading to Europe, agrees to terms with CSKA Moscow

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After spending 11 seasons in the NBA, the last four years in Sacramento, Kosta Koufos has found a new home for next season.

In Moscow. With EuroLeague powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

Koufos struggled to fit in his big-man game with the new up-tempo Kings last season. Add to that the NBA moving toward “small ball” — which is more about skill and mobility than size — Koufos has decided to head overseason. He’s making more than the NBA veteran minimum, which is likely what he would have gotten from an NBA squad.

All but the elite big men in the NBA are finding reduced demand and with that reduced pay scale, so good on Koufos for doing what is best for himself.