There is a large contingent of Sixers fans that seem to be split down the middle between deciding if Sixers’ forward Robert Covington is good or bad at basketball. It seems as if everyday you can log on to Twitter and see a debate on whether or not the 76ers should package him in a trade or keep him here for the long haul. If you have been a fan since the Process days, then you know there are many pros and cons that come with RoCo, and I am here to finally settle the debate.
For the sake of my Twitter mentions being destroyed when this piece comes out, I will start with the good. Robert Covington was named to the NBA’s First Team All-Defense list and has been getting noticed for his defensive prowess over the past two years.
Covington also ranked 1st in catch-and-shoot threes made in the 2017-2018 season. I look at Covington as a great off-ball and team defender. He is great at getting his hands in the passing lanes and also stripping ball handlers at the rim, which reflects his being ranked 2nd in pass deflections, averaging 3.9 per game. His biggest contribution with the team came at the start of the season where he averaged close to 15 PPG on 45% shooting overall and 47% shooting from the three point line. Covington is clearly one of the best 3+D players in the NBA, but how high do we rate those players, and how important are they when it comes to team success?
Now the bad. My gripe with Covington fans is that many people go off stats and analytics to determine that Robert Covington is a good player, and they completely disregard the eye test. Yes, he is a good off-ball defender, so sometimes people think that translates into him being a good on-ball defender, when in reality, it is the opposite.
When you throw around words such as “Elite” and “Lockdown,” you need some type of proof to back it up. Covington has never shut down players on-ball like a Kawhi Leonard, Andre Roberson, or a Lebron James in his early years. I do not think Covington strikes fear in any one player’s heart like when Lebron saw Kawhi checking into a game and visually got frustrated. Yes, I only mentioned two great NBA defenders, but once the words “Elite” and “Lockdown” start getting thrown around, those are the guys to whom you are comparing Robert Covington.
In the 2018 NBA playoffs, “Lockdown Defender” Robert Covington struggled to stay in front of players such as Goran Dragic, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown, when they attacked him in one-on-one situations off the dribble. He also did not provide anything on the offensive side of the ball, which brings me to one of the biggest problems I have with Covington – his inconsistency. In the first round of the 2018 playoffs, Covington averaged just 9.4 PPG on just 38% shooting, and in the second round, he was even worse, averaging just 6.8 PPG on just 26% shooting. To top it off, he was benched after game 3 in the second round of the playoffs for point guard TJ McConnell. Even with Covington’s offense woes, if he was an “elite defender,” he should have still been able to stay on the floor and provide something on the defensive side of the ball.
As far as the regular season went, Covington showed his largest inconsistencies. Like I stated before, he had a tremendous start to the season, but it seemed to all go down hill once he signed the $62 million dollar contract extension in late November. Covington’s stats dropped to about 12.6 PPG on 40% shooting from the field and 37% from the three point line.
When his shot isn’t falling from long range, it is hard for Covington to get his points and contribute on the offensive end any other way. He struggles with handling the ball, he cannot attack close-outs, and he is borderline terrible finishing at the rim. How can you classify players that can do these exact things and more over him?
Yes, when you look at the statistics, Robert Covington is a top 3+D player, depending on how you classify the position. Players such as Otto Porter, Trevor Ariza, Wesley Matthews (injuries aside) are all playing with scoring point guards in not-so team oriented systems and are either averaging the same stats as RoCo or better. Covington plays in a team oriented offense with a deferring point guard in Ben Simmons; you would think his stats would surpass the others, but they don’t.
Imagine a player like Otto Porter or Wesley Matthews alongside Ben Simmons; you can make a strong argument that his stats would bolster. How can one say that Covington is above one of those players named, when his stats reflect that he is either the same or worse, and he is arguably in a better situation? Also, how could he be better than those players when they all have the same abilities as he does (despite being a little worse on defense), and they can all put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim? When you compare Robert Covington to other 3+D players in the NBA, stats wise, he is top 3, but stats and analytics are not everything. They mean something, yes, but you have to find a balance of stats and the eye test.
To reinforce my point, the on-ball defense isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a RoCo trademark either. In the Rockets vs. Warriors playoff series, we saw Trevor Ariza hounding Kevin Durant and making everything difficult for him. Do we really think Covington would have given Durant the same problems? At best, Covington is a spot-up, inconsistent three point shooter who plays good defense.
I am not here to decide whether or not Robert Covington is a good basketball player. I just wanted to shed some light on the debate and hopefully give people something to think over when using certain words and terms to describe him. I guess it all depends on the guys to whom you are comparing him and to what standards you are holding him.
As previously stated, if you are throwing out the words “elite defender” and “lockdown defender,” then be prepared to have Covington compared to defensive stoppers such as Kawhi Leonard, Andre Roberson, Patrick Beverly, Avery Bradley, etc. Offensively, if you want to compare him to other 3+D players, make sure you can bring up what he does better than some of those players. I personally think RoCo is a good piece for the Sixers and great addition to what we need, but do I think he is irreplaceable and we cannot get someone else like him? No. He has been mentioned in almost every trade rumor this offseason – that should tell you something and give you something to think about.