The Under-Appreciated Cog In “The Process”
For three years, the 76ers organization has been preaching the phrase “Trust the Process” to its fans and its players. This “process” has seen dozens of players come and go over the last few seasons, with the goal of the organization being to hopefully find a few diamonds in the rough. The roster was often filled with D-League level talent being given the opportunity to showcase their skills against NBA competition on a nightly basis. Obviously, when a team’s talent level is this low, it does not result in many wins, but what it does result in is finding a few hidden gems that can contribute as future role players on championship contending teams. The majority of the players given this opportunity do not find much success, and many struggled to stick on an NBA roster for more than a season.
Through all of this turnover, the Sixers became the laughing stock of the NBA. Night after night, season after season, it became apparent that the Sixers just did not have the talent to play competitive basketball on a nightly basis. The Sixers stuck with their objective of trying to find under-the-radar players who could flourish as solid role players, and they found just that in Robert Covington.
Robert Covington has been playing the underdog role his entire life. Coming out of high school, he was only offered two scholarships to division 1 schools. He committed to Tennessee State, and after breaking out in his junior year, he tore his meniscus which wrecked any chance he had to hear his name called on draft night in 2013.
Covington eventually signed with the Houston D-League team, the Vipers, that played an up tempo run-and-gun style of play. In his rookie season in the D-League, he averaged an impressive 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.7 blocks. Even though the D-League statistics tend to be a bit inflated due to the lower level of defense and the higher pace of the game, the numbers Covington put up caught Brett Brown’s eyes.
He signed with the 76ers in 2014, and almost immediately made his impact felt. He was the team’s third leading scorer that year, and was the second best 3-point shooter by percentage. That was just the beginning.
The next season, he put up relatively similar numbers all around, but his efficiency began to take a dip. This forced him to change the way he played, as his offensive ability was no longer reason enough for Brett Brown to keep him on the court for as many minutes as he was receiving. The 2015–16 season is when Covington really began to devote most of his effort to the defensive end.
In Covington’s first season as a 76er, he was not by any means known as a lock down defender. It would be a struggle to even say that he was an above average defender. He was allowing his opponents to shoot 45.7% from the field, which was 1.4% better than the average. By no means is that what a coach looks for from a guy you want defending the other teams best players.
His next season, when he began to focus more on the defensive end, he was able to hold opponents to 44.1% from the field, which was 0.6% below their average. That improvement showed that there was potential for him to develop even further. This season, Brett Brown could not be happier with the strides Covington has taken on the defensive end.
So far this season, Covington is holding his opponents to 43.2% from the field, which is an astounding 2.4% below their average. He is also doing this while being asked to match up with the other team’s best guard/forward. His dominance on the defensive end has helped the 76ers attain the top ranked defensive rating in the month of January. He is also featured in the best 5-man defensive rotation in the NBA (with a minimum of 100 possessions played together), which is made up of TJ McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Ersan Illyasova, and Joel Embiid.
So far through 50 games this season, the 76ers are 0–7 without Covington, and 18–25 with him. Keep in mind that Joel Embiid has also been in and out of the lineup as well, and the team has still found a way to win a few games without him. Every team needs a face of the franchise that lives in the spotlight, and Joel Embiid is clearly that guy. However, before you go out and give Embiid all of the credit for the turnaround of the team, remember that Robert Covington is doing all of the dirty work behind the scenes to make things easier for his teammates. His game might be flashy, but “the process” would not be progressing this fast without him.