Last season during Pacers games I created a little game of my own. Rather than the drinking game that will have to accompany this season to make the games bearable, this game was called "Where in the World is Chris Copeland?" The answer was always "on the bench."
The three point specialist was expected to at least be a regular in the rotation last season after being signed to a two year six million dollar contract, but he struggled to find consistent minutes all year. After averaging 8.7 points per game on 42.1 percent shooting from three in 15.4 minutes a night during his first NBA season with the New York Knicks, Copeland saw his production drop to 3.7 points in just 6.5 minutes per game last season with Indiana. Earning Frank Vogel's trust can be difficult if you do not have a track record of playing good defense and Copeland learned that the hard way.
Every now and then Vogel would forego his usual rotation (usually in a blowout) and throw Copeland into the game for large stretches. In an April game against Orlando Copeland played 26 minutes scoring 19 points including going 5-11 from three point range. The game marked his season high in minutes and scoring.
Also of note was an earlier game in April at Milwaukee when Copeland scored 18 points shooting 7-8 from the field, while also scoring the game winning basket with 1.2 seconds remaining to give the Pacers a 104-102 victory. I will weirdly always remember that as "The Cope Game" and think about it fondly.
The exits of Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner, as well as the injury to Paul George, should open up minutes for Copeland this season. When he was originally signed he was thought of as a stretch four, but if he wants to get consistent playing time this year it may have to be on the perimeter. Cope will compete with guys like Solomon Hill and Damjan Rudez for that playing time.
So far in camp Hill and Copeland have found themselves in the starting lineup alongside George Hill, Rodney Stuckey, David West, and Roy Hibbert at various times in camp scrimmages. If one of them sticks in the starting five I'd expect it to be Hill due to his more well-rounded overall game. If that ends up being the case the second unit could shake out as C.J. Watson, C.J. Miles, Copeland/Rudez, Luis Scola, and Ian Mahinmi. So, it looks like it will come down to Copeland and Rudez competing for a spot in the second unit as the backup small forward unless there is something I am failing to take into account.
The fact of the matter is that Copeland is a one dimensional player. He is a very good three point shooter and that is about it. He is too small to play in the post, he does not handle the ball particularly well or create plays for his teammates.
Copeland has also been a bit of a subpar defender during his brief career in the NBA. As I said before, Vogel has made it known that to get minutes in his rotation you must commit to playing good team defense. Evan Turner notwithstanding.
If it comes down to Rudez and Copeland for playing time it will likely be decided by which one plays better defense in training camp. Copeland has the advantage of a year under his belt in Vogel's system, but I doubt the Pacers would have brought Rudez over from Europe if they did not expect him to make the rotation. If Copeland fails to show improvement defensively the answer to the question game I posed earlier will remain the same.