Steve Novak vs. Chris Copeland: The Eternal Question (With a Twist!)

Bruce Bennett

With Amar'e getting more minutes (and struggling), how should the Knicks deploy Novak and Copeland? Get ready for an ending that will blow your mind!

"I said god-damn! This quantum chemistry stuff is a piece of cake, but I have no idea if Woody should be using Cope or Novak right now."

-Two-time Nobel Prize-winner Linus Pauling

It's not only the Nobel laureates who are struggling with this question. The Knicks have two compelling-but-flawed players in Steve Novak and Chris Copeland. Since the return of Amar'e Stoudemire, the number of minutes available to the Knicks' reserve forwards has dropped. Steve Novak's minutes had been dropping a bit even before Amar'e's return - he had been racking up 30+ MPG games fairly consistently through the middle of December. In fact, it was Copeland who suffered the most from the addition of STAT - he averaged over 25 MPG in the six games before STAT's return, and 10 MPG in the six games since, including the 21:36 he played in place of the suspended Carmel Anthony on Thursday. Whether coincidence or not, his production dropped to practically nil - 15.8 PPG in the six games pre-STAT, 2.2 PPG in the six games post-STAT.

And then came Sunday's Chris Copeland re-coming-out party: 30 MP, 22 points on 9-of-15 from the field, 4-of-8 from the 3. The Knicks absolutely needed this kind of game from someone not named "Melo" or "J.R."...hell, given the way Melo and J.R. have been shooting the past few games, they simply needed this kind of game from someone in a Knicks jersey. I'm sure the front office, not to mention the fans, would have preferred Amar'e to be the one dropping 22 points. Well, it wasn't Amar'e; it was Cope. And it really shouldn't be that surprising - in terms of offense (which is pretty much all the Knicks do nowadays), Chris Copeland has arguably been one of their five most valuable players for the past month.

That's all well and good, but where do the Knicks go from here? Amar'e is only going to get more minutes, and we Knick fans better break out the orange-and-blue prayer rugs, prostrate ourselves toward basketball Mecca and start praying that STAT gets his shit together. The Marcus Camby injury has opened up some minutes, but Camby was making quality contributions during his 10-15 minutes per night, so if Novak or Copeland want to fill in for Camby, they need to step up their games.

There are minutes for both of these guys, but Amar'e's struggles are leaving the Knicks with a razor-thin margin for error. Until the old Amar'e returns (if he ever does), the Novak-Cope minutes must be distributed with care, to ensure maximum production from the more productive player.

So who is the more productive player? There's only one way to find out: by droppin' science like Galileo dropped the orange!

Traditional Stats:

Let's take a look at the per-36-minute numbers:

Rk Player MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB TOV PF PTS
1 Chris Copeland 306 7.8 16.0 .485 2.2 5.8 .388 2.2 2.8 .792 1.2 2.6 3.8 1.8 3.1 20.0
2 Steve Novak 868 3.7 8.8 .420 3.2 7.1 .448 0.6 0.6 .933 0.3 2.7 3.1 0.2 2.0 11.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/14/2013.

No contest here in terms of scoring. As infamous as Novak's rebounding has become, Cope almost matches him, non-board for non-board.

One thing I've found with Copeland: if you give him more minutes, he will usually reward you. Cope played twelve games this season where he was given more than nine minutes of playing time,

Rk Date Opp MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB PTS
1 2012-12-28 @ SAC 40:41 8 16 .500 3 8 .375 4 4 1.000 1 23
2 2013-01-13 NOH 30:10 9 15 .600 4 8 .500 0 0 4 22
3 2012-12-26 @ PHO 29:40 6 12 .500 2 5 .400 0 0 2 14
4 2012-12-17 HOU 28:28 11 19 .579 3 5 .600 4 4 1.000 5 29
5 2012-12-19 BRK 23:29 3 4 .750 2 2 1.000 0 0 1 8
6 2013-01-10 @ IND 21:36 3 9 .333 0 3 .000 2 2 1.000 6 8
7 2012-12-15 CLE 18:35 4 5 .800 2 3 .667 1 2 .500 1 11
8 2013-01-03 SAS 18:25 1 5 .200 1 2 .500 0 0 3 3
9 2012-11-30 WAS 12:52 3 5 .600 0 0 0 0 1 6
10 2012-11-28 @ MIL 10:57 2 5 .400 0 0 1 2 .500 1 5
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/14/2013.

Again, we're not talking about Michael Jordan here, but give Cope double-digit minutes and you're likely to get a decent number of points. In contrast, Novak has never played less than 13 minutes in a game this season - in 36 games, he has yet to break the 20-point barrier, has scored in double digits eight times, and has as many games with zero points as he does with 17+ points (four). Considering these guys do little else besides scoring, Cope seems to provide more bang for your buck.

Advanced Stats:

Rk Player G MP PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
1 Chris Copeland 25 306 16.9 .580 .555 3.6 8.8 6.0 4.1 9.3 24.4 109 110 0.5 0.2 0.7 .105
2 Steve Novak 36 868 11.1 .615 .601 1.0 9.3 4.9 3.3 2.2 11.9 127 111 1.7 0.3 2.0 .112
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/14/2013.

Here's where things get tricky: the advanced stats love the Money Badger. Did you know Steve Novak leads the NBA in turnover percentage? Wouldn't that be amazing if Novak, last year's 3-point field goal percentage leader, ends up leading the league in a completely different category this season? Of course, I question how he ever turns the ball over at all...he puts the ball on the floor approximately never, and he's not exactly dropping dimes like a slightly-less-white John Stockton out there.

What we have here is a great example of the difference between PER and win shares per 48 minutes. PER has Copeland as the better player, while WS/48 favors Novak. Which one is right? Is either of them right? Win shares punishes Cope for getting his points with a higher usage rate and a lower eFG%. I understand this position, sometimes - it helps players like Tyson Chandler, who get their points without dominating the ball, and who benefit their team even without the ball. My question is this: when you're talking about two guys like Novak and Copeland, who do little else but score, does this rating system make any sense?

Shooting Stats:

Quick, guess how many shots Novak has taken at the rim this year?

...

If you said "zero", then shame on you...he has taken two (and made them both!). Copeland, on the other hand, has taken 38 and made 22, so Novak has him beat on shooting percentage. Considering the trouble this team has had getting to the rim of late, this seems pretty significant. What's more, Copeland has nearly been Novak's equal as a jump shooter (.410 FG% for Cope, .416 FG% for Novak)

Okay, I think I've shown that Cope has been the better player so far...not a huge surprise there.

Here's the surprise:

Novak and Copeland: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together?

You may have noticed that Novak and Copeland have actually played together quite a bit. You may also have noticed yourself screaming at the TV, "WHY THE &^$^ ARE THEY PLAYING TOGETHER???"

As it turns out, there may just be a method to Woodson's madness. Copeland and Novak have played together for 165.3 minutes - more than half of Copeland's season total. Their +/- in all that time?

...

- takes a sip of tea, adjusts monocle -

...

+ 21 POINTS

-spits out tea, drops monocle in teacup-

Wow, I did not see that coming. Not only is the Novak-Copeland pairing NOT the complete black hole I thought it was, but the Knicks are coming out ahead quite often. You really couldn't hope for much more from a combo that usually plays with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. The pair has played a role in a few key runs these past few weeks:

  • Yesterday, Woodson started the fourth quarter with an Amar'e-Novak-Cope front-court with the game still very much in doubt (Knicks up 5). The lineup exploded out of the gate with a nine-point swing that helped put the game on ice.
  • The heartbreak of the Dec. 28 loss to the Kings would not have been possible without the huge third-quarter comeback, spurred by a 12-point swing late in the third when Novak and Pablo Prigioni checked in to join Copeland, J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler.
  • On Jan. 3, the Spurs were still within ten points entering the fourth quarter. Woodson went with the super-big lineup of Cope, Novak, Melo, J.R. and Tyson. They responded with a quick 11-point swing to end any thoughts of a Spurs comeback.

Naturally, this duo can be a bit combustible - when these two aren't making shots, the score can swing the other way in a hurry. But, more often than not, the results from the Novak-Copeland pairing has helped the Knicks. Hopefully I'll keep that little tidbit in my mind next time they take the court.

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