Five minutes of play and then to the bench. That’s pretty much NBA life for James White.
28-year-old rookie Chris Copeland is stuck in the opposite predicament: Mike Woodson parks him on the bench for every relevant minute, only to give him burn after the game is out of reach. (See: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors, Mar. 11, 2013 for reference.)
White starts. Copeland sits. Supposedly, it’s for defensive reasons, but at this point a player who is capable of being a legitimate offensive contributor has to have more value to a Knicks team that is in dire need of scoring efficiency.
Last night was ugly – some might say uglier than Betty. The Knicks shot 27.4 percent from the field, 18.5 percent from the line and posted 63 points in Oakland. Only the basketball gods know if their 12-point second quarter or their nine-point fourth quarter was worse, but even on an off night for the team, Mike Woodson stayed in his usual rotation habits—James White got to spin for a confusing five minutes at the start and Chris Copeland entered once the outcome was already decided.
With Amar’e Stoudemire out for the remainder of the regular season, the Knicks need offense from the forward spot more than they have all season. Kenyon Martin was supposed to be an answer — if not the answer. He’s supposed to give the team grit, hustle, and toughness, and many believed that would be enough.
2005 Kenyon Martin would be great. Heck, even 2010 Kenyon Martin could be a valuable contributor. But go back and watch 2012 Kenyon Martin with the Clippers. It’s a different player. He’s not as quick. He doesn’t move nearly as well laterally as he once did. His shot altering ability is far from what it once was. If you love 20-foot jumpers with 12 seconds left on the shot clock, this is your guy. But otherwise, 2012 Kenyon Martin looks so far to be merely a shade of his former self.
Maybe Martin just had an off year after spending half of the lockout-shortened season in China. Maybe he just looked slower and less effective because his stalker had finally psyched him out. More realistically, maybe a 35 year old is just starting to play like a 35 year old.
Martin won’t replace Amar’e. He can’t replace him. When the Knicks lost their sixth man, it’s pretty apparent they didn’t lose much on the defensive end. It’s the offense they need to replace, and Copeland fits that mold a heck of a lot better than Martin or White.
Common knowledge says White starts because of defense. Copeland can put the ball in the hoop on one end of the floor, but he is a turnstile at the other. But there’s a problem with that logic: While White can play some defense, the lineup around him simply isn’t producing with him on the floor.
Opposing offenses have cleaned up when White has been out on the floor with the starters. The Knicks’ current starting lineup of Felton-Shumpert-White-Anthony-Chandler has posted a 123.1 defensive efficiency. Now, that’s in only six games so that number could change. In fact, it probably will change. A figure that poor is hard to sustain for a long stretch of time, if only because it’s cartoonishly bad. But for now, that 123.1 defensive efficiency is good enough to earn the title of the second-worst defensive five-man lineup that has played more than 25 minutes for the Knicks.
With White, we’re talking about a player that has had two game scores better than 5.0 all season. White is someone known for his dunking and explosiveness, yet he’s shooting only 55.6 percent at the rim (compared to a ridiculous 70.2 percent at the rim for Copeland).
It’s safe to say that Copeland settles nicely into the Knicks’ offensive mold; New York is a team that executes a 4-out, 1-in scheme well. That means maximizing more efficient shots like threes and layups and minimizing less efficient ones like 22-foot, fadeaway jumpers.
That’s Copeland’s game, isn’t it? 38 percent on threes, effective at the rim, relatively smart with his shot selection — that ought to fit in well with this Knicks’ starting lineup, but for some reason we haven’t seen it. Copeland has scored 44 points in his past 38 minutes played on 16-for-27 shooting, but those 38 minutes have come over a 16-game stretch, one in which he played in only four contests.
At this point, there is simply no reason not to give Copeland a chance. The White experiment doesn’t seem to be working – neither superficially nor analytically. If you’re Mike Woodson, isn’t now the best time for change? Amar’e is out. Kidd has fallen off from the start of the year. Your million-tattoo man is playing with pain because he’s incongruously afraid of needles. (EDITOR’S NOTE: He’s also scared of cats. Ironically, given the state of Melo’s knee, a common house cat could have guarded him last night.)
There has to be an opening in the rotation, and Copeland isn’t giving the Knicks much of a choice of who it should be.