One of the biggest surprises of the 2014-15 NBA season was the emergence of a young swingman in Philly. Sure, it seems like the Sixers have rotated “disposable” players 24/7 during the Sam Hinkie regime but there have been a few gems, none brighter than former Tennessee State forward Robert Covington.
Although Covington was on the radar of some NBA teams, he essentially came out of nowhere a year ago. After being released by the Houston Rockets right before the regular season, he was selected number one overall in the D-League draft. Shortly after, the Sixers called him up to the big leagues, or whatever they are dubbing it in Philly these days, and made an immediate impact.
He was an easy choice to earn major minutes in Brett Brown’s lineup since he features a translatable NBA skill (long-range shooting) that the Sixers have lacked for a few years. At 6’9, Covington has a very nice release point on his jumper and is usually in rhythm when he rises up to take shots. Once Covington fully earned Coach Brown’s trust, he absolutely took off.
Bobby Buckets left nothing to the imagination, torching opponents on his way to 10th overall in the NBA for threes made and attempted.
It’s scary to think Covington is already in the company of elite shooters like JJ Redick, Wesley Matthews & Damian Lillard in terms of makes and attempts.
Now, it’s tough to award the Most Improved Player Award to someone like Covington, who barely played as a rook (avg. 4.9 minutes/game in Houston) but significantly upped his production (avg. 13.5 points/game, 4.5 rebounds/game, 37% 3FG w/ Philly in 2014-15; named to the Rising Stars roster at All-Star Weekend) when given more opportunity. Such a jump, in his case, is difficult to gauge because he actually turned into a future cornerstone player in an organization with incredible roster turnover.
Believe it or not, Covington is primed out to breakthrough even further in 2015-16 with a better supporting cast around him. Newly acquired Nik Stauskas will stretch the defense on the perimeter, the return of Tony Wroten from ACL surgery should create more open looks via penetration and rookie sensation Jahlil Okafor is a talented passer who is sure to make a tremendous impact down low.
Not to mention future star Nerlens Noel and the monumental impact he already has starting the break and converting in transition. Those combined factors result in a highly illuminated green light for RoCo. To expand his game to new heights, however, Covington still has a few areas to shore up.
Shooting is Covington’s best ability but he also is long enough and dedicated enough to crash the glass on the defensive end. There aren’t too many sharpshooters who are also strong on the boards…a sign that Covington has the opportunity to become a versatile threat on both ends.
On defense, he gets lost way too frequently off ball but has raw talent in terms of knowing how to cut off his man on the baseline and forcing his opponent into the help. Honestly, with his physical tools, it will be a huge shock if he remains a porous stopper for long.
As far as playmaking & shot selection go, RoCo is still improving. In fact, they go hand in hand!
Covington is a much better passer than his 1.5 assists/game average indicates. And he is DEFINITELY a better shooter than his 37% FG overall indicates. Last season, he may have overcompensated on the offensive end a bit to show he belongs on the NBA after a few stints in the D-League.
With a better understanding of the offense, the addition of a couple of go-to moves off the dribble, and more talent to play off of, expect both categories to see an uptick.
There’s a very good chance that you still, at this point, have no clue who Robert Covington is. So check out his highlights from last season!:
Yeah…Philly’s “tanking” efforts may have paid off considerably here! It’s one of those “I told you so” moments for Sam Hinkie, who likely acquired Covington to ensure some form of below average play for a high lottery selection. The fact that he stumbled upon a potential game-changer is just icing on the cake.
The Sixers are going to be “victory-challenged” yet again next season but look out, there are finally a few pieces to build around. And Robert Covington, whose confidence continues to grow with more responsibility, will be a major factor when Philly returns to prominence.