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


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:


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):


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.”

Bulls coach Thibodeau has no interest in resting Derrick Rose: ‘If he can go, I think he has to go’


Derrick Rose has missed three of his team’s last four games while dealing with ankle injuries, including Friday night’s win over the lowly Sixers.

Rose has been game-time decisions for each, warming up a couple of hours before tip-off to see if he would be able to go.

But the soft schedule, which has included games against Orlando and Minnesota that Rose has missed, has zero to do with the team’s strategy. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wants Rose playing the moment he’s healthy enough to do so, in order for his star player to rid himself of any lingering rust that has accumulated from so much time off over the past two seasons.

From Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

When asked on Friday whether Rose would be ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Boston Celtics as well, coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t wait until the question was finished to respond.

“No, no,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll see (Saturday). We’ll see where he is. If he can go, I think he has to go. If he can’t, then he doesn’t. It’s really that simple. It’s the only way he’s going to shake the rust off is getting out there and playing.”

The Bulls’ front office feels the same way. While GM Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson are hopeful that Thibodeau will keep Rose and Joakim Noah on a minutes limit to start the season, their outlook jives with the head coach’s: If Rose feels good enough to play, then that’s what he should do.

I’m not sure that the majority of Bulls fans would feel the same way.

The Eastern Conference is a two-team race between Chicago and Cleveland, at least on paper. There doesn’t appear to be another squad capable of handling either of those two in a seven game series once the playoffs begin, and unlike previous seasons, the Bulls would like to be at full strength for a change once that time is upon us.

Playing Rose now if he’s anywhere below 100 percent is short-sighted at best, even with the intention of getting him comfortable with the regular season grind, to the point where he can play in a cohesive manner with his teammates. The smart move would be to continue to rack up wins against inferior competition while Rose makes his way back, but it appears as though the organization won’t rest him without cause, and wants him back on the court just as soon as he feels he’s healthy enough to contribute once again.

Derrick Rose for Bulls, Nerlens Noel for 76ers both out Friday night, both with ankle sprains


Derrick Rose played 31 minutes last Tuesday, but his sprained ankle was still bothering him and he didn’t feel like he was himself. He was questionable for Friday as of that moment. He went through shootaround Friday and officially was a game time decision for when the Bulls take on the 76ers.

After trying it out — and Tom Thibodeau realizing they are playing the lowly 76ers — Rose is going to be out Friday night, Thibs told the media (via Tim Marcin of

A bunch of Bulls fans just rolled their eyes. I don’t get some Bulls’ fans desire to root against their star player, but whatever. The fact is if he is not 100 percent this is the perfect game to keep him out — this is winnable without him. Especially since Joakim Noah is back from his illness for tonight. Get Rose right for the tougher games.

The 76ers will be without star rookie Nerlens Noel.

This is not a shock — you think the Sixers are going to race any player back? Because they are so worried about losing a game?

Dirk Nowitzki not ready to recruit LaMarcus Aldridge, but would probably want to play with him


LaMarcus Aldridge won’t sign a contract extension with the Trail Blazers, opting to become a free agent next summer.

He says he’ll re-sign in Portland, and that’s probably the most likely option. He can make a lot more money by signing a new contract rather than extending his current one.

But once Aldridge hits free agency and other teams come calling, maybe he hears something he likes. Until he actually re-signs, there’s always a chance he leaves.

Could the Mavericks tempt the Texas native?

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

Before the question was even asked in its entirety, Dirk Nowitzki was ready to tap the brakes.

The subject was Portland star and Seagoville product LaMarcus Aldridge and the possibility that Nowitzki and other Maverick players might want to start their sales pitches to Aldridge as soon as possible. The 6-11 power forward will be one of the NBA’s most attractive free agents in the summer of 2015.

“Ease up on that,” he said.

“I think I’ve showed in my career that I can play with anybody in this league,” Nowitzki said, clearly warming up to the idea. “In some situations, he’s playing the five [center] when they go small, so …”

He didn’t have to finish the thought. Great players love playing with other great players. And at this point in his career, there is no doubting Aldridge’s greatness.

Though Nowitzki and Aldridge share similar mid-range games, Nowitzki is mostly right: He can play with anyone – offensively. There’s enough room on the court for both players to shoot jumpers and work inside. A Nowitzki-Aldridge duo would have defensive issues, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

The Mavericks are slated to have near-max cap room, though they still couldn’t offer as much as the Trail Blazers. Dallas would have to make a very impressive pitch to draw Aldridge from Portland, but that process could start at any time.

As Joakim Noah with Carmelo Anthony and Chandler Parsons with Dwight Howard have shown, the NBA does not consider players talking to each other tampering. Recruiting can start early.

Nowitzki might want to “ease up” right now, but if he wants to play with Aldridge, he should work on his selling points well before Aldridge becomes a free agent July 1.

Bucks’ Larry Sanders starts break with block, Antetokounmpo finishes it with dunk (VIDEO)


This is why the Bucks are so much fun to watch.

Sure, they lost this game to the Chicago Bulls, the Bucks are young and going to lose a lot of games this season. But Milwaukee has a level of athleticism that few teams can match and that does lead to some spectacular plays, such as this one where Larry Sanders shuts down Taj Gibson at the rim to spark the break, which ends with an alley-oop finish from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks are becoming my League Pass favorite team to watch. Sure they make the mistakes of youth still, but then you get moments like this.