This summer, in his high school city of Richmond, Va., Chris Copeland will be training harder than ever.
“My biggest goal for next year is that I want to win the most improved player in the league. My goal for this summer is to come back a much stronger, better player. That’s the biggest goal for me. Whatever role I’m in it should show through, I think that’s the most important thing.”
Chris Copeland, interview with Empire Writes Back
He’ll be flanked by two NBA veterans, former NBA All-Defense stud Ben Wallace and North Carolina champion Ed Davis. During those dog days, Cope will be sweating, laughing, pacing and improving.
Meanwhile, in a distant major metropolis, New York Knicks fans will be praying for Cope to return from summer break in an orange and blue jersey.
There’s no doubt Copeland will be sporting his widest summer smile ever. He spent this time last June biting fingernails and chewing cuticles, waiting for the call that would change his life. Now Cope is enjoying an aerial view of NBA free agency, looking to “play and contribute,” but also “get paid.”
Is Copeland worth the Knicks mid-level exception cash? Of course. With a per-36 minute average of 20.1 points per contest (17th best in the NBA) placing him ahead of players like Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki, Cope is in free agency’s driver seat.
We haven't even talked about his sweet stroke yet. Cope almost outshot Steve Novak from deep, with his .421 three-point mark finishing only .4 behind Novak’s 2012-13 regular-season percentage (.425).
Cope is grateful—that much is certain. He was putting in work over in Europe since his Colorado college days and just needed a chance to prove the haters wrong.
It took Cope quite a few practice suicides to get Mike Woodson's attention, but he did his best to make his coach look like a stooge for making him wait.
Chris Copeland is a hooper with some upside potential. I mean, the man won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in April and gave us the Kanye shrug.
He knows he needs to get his game up, but where?
Skill No. 1: Man-to-Man Defense
Despite his glorious rookie campaign, Cope’s still got to learn how to play the other side of the ball. But what should the kid work on first?
Man-to-man defense isn't a prerequisite for lethal NBA scorers (see: Curry, Stephen), but it's necessary for any journeyman to be competent and have sticking power. Cope was atrocious on the defensive end all year, letting his man whip by for easy hoops.
Cope will be with Ben Wallace this summer, and should pick up some tips from him during their training sessions.
Skill No. 2: Team Defense
"One-on-one, I'm pretty solid I think. But rotations, I was really bad. I didn't know where to be in certain situations, and when to go or when not to go. I struggled in doing that."
Chris Copeland to Jared Zwerling, ESPNNewYork.com
Other than your majesty Iman Shumpert, the Knicks don't have many great one-on-one defenders. Basketball is a team game, after all, and the Knicks have been able to sneak by with Melo-centric small ball lineups because of solid team defense.
Since Tyson Chandler's arrival, the Knicks have been in the top half of team defenses (11th in 2012, seventh in 2013) and held opponents to 95.2 points per game over the same span. New York uses Chandler as the central anchor, with guards feeding opponents to Tyson's patrol and leaking out for fast breaks and big jams after monster swats.
Copeland has great foot speed on offense, but has to translate that energy to the defensive end. Cope praised veterans Rasheed Wallace, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby for his marked improvements in this facet of his game, but he will have to be better at anticipating offenses and reading alignments.
Skill No. 3: Hit the Glass
Let's look at Chris Copeland's best rookie games:
|Chris Copeland - Best Rookie Year Games|
|December 17 (vs. Houston, L)||29||29||5|
|December 28 (@ Sacramento, L)||41||23||1|
|April 15 (@ Charlotte, L)||47||32||7|
|April 17 (vs. Atlanta, W)||41||33||3|
I'm not going to hate too hard, because it's clear this guy can ball. No matter how you slice it, it's hard to drop 30 points in an NBA game. Good work.
But one rebound in 41 minutes? Three rebounds in 41 minutes? How is that possible? Is Cope afraid of the painted area? Those are Chris Bosh conference finals numbers.
The newest NBA blue blood is a fine shooter and all, but he needs to stop taking rebounding lessons from Amar'e Stoudemire. In the NBA, you won't get rebounds just because your 6'9"—everybody's tall.
Cope's rebounding will come with more defensive experience. When you don't know where to be on defense, it's hard to sniff out ball location when it comes off the rim.
Chris Copeland's a talented baller. Anyone with two eyes can see that. But if Chris wants to get folks shook like Mobb Deep, here are some summer guidelines:
Get your defense up, throw your backside on guys like Moses Malone and watch the money pile up.
Stats compiled using NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com.