Robert Covington: Overlooked, Underrated, and Finally Rewarded
With Joel Embiid’s latest exploits you might forget that Robert Covington is a deserved candidate for Most Improved Player. On November 17th, Covington and the Philadelphia 76ers officially announced the signing of his four-year, $62 million extension. His salary increased by $15 million and now Covington is one of the latest G-League stars to rise up into, and legitimately impact, the NBA ranks.
An overlooked 3-and-D stud, so-called RoCo went undrafted and played in the D-League before signing with the Houston Rockets in 2013. After the Rockets released him the 76ers grabbed him off waivers and neither side has looked back since (although Houston GM Daryl Morey is probably kicking himself a little). Covington’s indomitable mix of buckets and defense was able to snag him the D-League Player of the Year award for 2013-14 after he averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks a game.
Even then the combination of offensive and defensive talents felt second-nature to the emerging wing, with a hint of even greater potential — as Covington already showed star potential by winning the All-Star Game MVP that year in developmental league. If anybody is still wondering why Covington deserves $62 million, then the answer needs to span his defensive effort, offensive range and movement, and his ability to dominate either end on any given night. RoCo is a small-forward originally, but with the gargantuan 6’10” Ben Simmons running the point, he has played just 42% of the time at small-forward and 58% at power-forward as the Sixers run more of a small-ball lineup with lengthy players at each spot. Offensively he is averaging the most points per game of his career this season with 16.7 while knocking down a ridiculously efficient 49% of his threes this season (on 7 attempts per game).
To see Covington get this contract after the tough stretches he had last year is a revelation. Early in the year (after his 29-point outpouring in the season opener) and at points last season, Covington was in a funk. He had made 8 of 46 threes as of January 4th and was frequently getting booed by the fans. Covington rose out of that hardship during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves when he went up for a back-door alley oop layup that won the Philadelphia 76ers the game 93-91.
After hitting the game-winning shot Covington didn’t back down from the fans and showed his toughness. According to NBC Philly he said:
"These fans can boo all they want, I'm never gonna stop playing no matter what."
After making game-breaking shot after shot since then Covington has become a fan favorite. His ability to shoot the three has been a great compliment to the dominant low-post threat that the Sixers have in Joel Embiid and the Magic-Johnson-style point guard that the team now has in Ben Simmons.
On defense Covington also has reason to boast. At the end of last year he was one of the final players to be considered for the Defensive Player of the Year award. He finished fourth in the voting behind Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, and Draymond Green — receiving one second place vote and one third place vote.
Covington’s ability to play offense, defense, and multiple positions has given him a chance to sign a contract that changed his life. His game is improving also. He was able to get his first 30-point game of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers in a nail biter where the Sixers needed all of his points. They ended up winning 109-105.
Covington has bullied past the obstacles and has been able to build himself into one of the most reliable players down the stretch for the team. In their last three games they are 2-1 and Covington is a big part of that. Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo chimed in on his star 3-and-D player after they made the deal official. According to Philly.com Colangelo said:
“Robert Covington is a prime example of what hard work, dedication, and commitment can lead to. Rob’s growth as a player on both ends of the floor makes him one of the most versatile and effective wings in the league, while his contributions of character and professionalism feature prominently in our evolving organizational culture. This extension is both well-deserved, and a really great story.”