By Chris Connolly
The Knicks went into last season with a roster full of one-way specialists. While this strategy worked extremely well in spurts for the Knicks, the ramifications of such players came full circle in the playoffs. The amount of limited players on the Knicks team also made it difficult for Mike Woodson to set a rotation. Whether he was searching for offense or defense, he often found himself scrambling for the right combination of players. Now with the season over and free agency in full swing, the Knicks must address their need of acquiring as many two-way talents as possible. With that said, it leads me to an interesting debate. Who would be the better fit for the Knicks: Chris Copeland or Matt Barnes?
My choice may be an unfavorable one for many Knicks fans, who far too often find themselves as prisoners of the moment. Over the past few seasons, this has been the case for fans with Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, and is now re-surfacing this offseason with Chris Copeland. By no means am I trying to take anything away from Cope, who rightfully deserves the attention he is currently getting on the market; but lets look at the big scheme of things. Cope captivated Knicks fans much the same way Jeremy Lin did. He was a feel-good story, who was given an opportunity on the biggest stage and made the best of his chance. He proved that if given the opportunity, he could come in and put the ball in the basket. He showed the ability to stretch the floor and added a nice dimension to the Knicks offense. You cannot understate his contributions to the Knicks team last season, but looking at the bigger picture, he is limited in many ways. Agree or disagree with the way Mike Woodson used Cope last season, there was a reason why he wasn’t a consistent rotation player. He has a glaring weakness on the defensive end, and often looked like a deer in headlights when trying to cover an opposing player. Also, Cope was basically a non-factor on the boards, averaging only 2.1 rebounds per contest.
Cope came into last season an unknown and under the radar player in opposing team’s scouting reports. Even as the season went on and into the playoffs, Cope was most likely not addressed as a major threat. This is definitely not going to be the case going into next season. As teams make adjustments to shut down a player, what will the player do to counter act the adjustments? If you don’t want to factor this in, just ask Steve Novak how difficult it is to make adjustments on the fly. Cope might have a more profound offense game than Novak, but how will he handle altered defensive schemes? This is a major unknown.
This leads me into why, if given the choice, Matt Barnes would be my addition to the Knicks roster. Most Knicks fans remember Barnes for his brief stint during the 05-06 season. While he didn’t necessarily impress in his time with the Knicks, he has since turned himself into a formidable NBA player. Barnes isn’t going to “wow” you on the offensive end, but he is definitely a capable offensive player. He averaged a career high in points last season at 10.3 a game, and also tallied close to 5 rebounds a night. Barnes is no slouch on the offensive end, but he definitely makes his money as a more than capable player on defense. He is a gritty, in your face defender, who often matches up with opposing team’s best scorer. Pairing him with Iman Shumpert, another proven lock-down defender, could make for a potent Knicks tandem. As teams in the Eastern Conference have put together quality shooting guard/small forward combinations, having two strong defensive players to match up with them is a necessity. For the Knicks, taking on Barnes would be a logical addition. You know exactly what you are going to get from him.
I understand why Knicks fans are so captivated with Chris Copeland. If the price is right for the Knicks financially, by all means sign him up. If the Knicks could finagle a way to add Barnes and also keep Copeland, I would be all for it. The two would actually compliment each other well. With that said, if Cope decides to sign elsewhere it will not be the end of the world for the Knicks going forward. You must also remember he will turn 30 years of age in his second full NBA season. Copeland is not a 24 year old with a high ceiling, and a lot of room for improvements. He is what he is: A stretch the floor player, who is too slow to guard a small forward and not aggressive enough to bang down low. On the contrary, Barnes is a lengthy veteran swingman, with significant prowess on the defensive end.
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