When Chris Copeland was first signed to play for the Indiana Pacers, the plan was for him to help fill out a rotation that many thought had the chops to make the NBA Finals. They came close last year, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but Copeland was barely a footnote in the journey there. He averaged a paltry three points in just under seven minutes per contest in the playoffs.
However, this year has been an entirely different story, as Copeland leads the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game. A lot of that has to do with all of the injuries the team has sustained this season, but regardless of the reason, he’s taking advantage of a really solid opportunity. He says last year’s banishment to the back of the bench has helped him appreciate the current season a whole lot more.
“It did a lot for me,” Copeland said of riding the bench. “I got to watch guys ahead of me that were great at their position. Every night I didn’t play, but I definitely got better even just watching.”
Of course, it wasn’t his plan to sit and watch. He wanted to play, and thought he would after signing his deal in the summer of 2013.
“I definitely expected to play, but we had a deep team last year and it showed in our results,” Copeland admitted. “So at the end of the day it’s one of those things that happens in basketball. I was just happy for our team success and I just wanted to dedicate myself this last summer to come right back.”
He was busy over the summer perfecting his game in order to give himself the opportunity he’s made so much of early this season.
“I worked on lot of things, a laundry list of stuff,” Copeland said. “Perseverance, patience, resilience, attention to detail, strategy—you go down, you learn a lot from last year. You just want to win.”
Of course, a big part of this opportunity has been the offseason injury to Paul George, but Copeland will be the first to admit that this wasn’t the way he wanted to see his minutes trend upward.
“I was in Miami and my phone just blew up, so I rushed to the ESPN channel and they were replaying it,” Copeland recollected. “I saw [the injury] once and I didn’t want to see it anymore.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Not Paul. Please, no.’ That’s my guy, you know what I mean? You don’t wish that on anybody, but Paul is just a dear friend of mine so I didn’t want to see that happen to him.”
In the weeks that followed, Copeland said the rest of the team and coaching staff never really talked tangibly about how to continue specifically without George. Copeland’s exit interview last season had the coaching staff settling on his playing small forward more this year. That’s where the hole is going to be all season, so while George Hill and David West returning could cause some of Indiana’s young upstarts to take a backseat, Copeland should keep his minutes all season.
He hopes he’s able to do a lot with them.
“I want to leave a mark on the game,” Copeland said. “That’s my goal. I have individual goals, but at the end of the day I definitely want to be respected in this game and leave my mark every time on the floor, whether it’s scoring or creating or doing other things.
“I just want to be respected out there.”
So far, he’s gotten more than his fair share of props this season, with more likely to come if Indiana figures out how to turn things around and get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. He’ll have to play a big role in making that happen, but that’s what he always thought he’d do in Indiana. The only difference this season is that he’s being given the chance.
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