By George Kondoleon
Robert Covington’s rise from NBA hopeful to the Philadelphia 76ers’ primary defensive wing is well documented. His emergence as an integral offensive piece this season is an interesting new chapter.
Prior to this season, the deficiencies in his offense were thought to be something the additions of J.J. Redick and Markelle Fultz needed to mitigate.
Eight games into the season, Covington’s performances have run contrary to expectations. Not only has Covington’s shooting stroke been lights out thus far, his shot selection seems more calculated. Last season, Robert Covington was wildly inconsistent as a deep threat, shooting just 33.3 percent on 7.4 attempts per game. Not only has his improved shooting stroke caused an uptick in efficiency early in the season, his deep threes are forcing the defense to leak further out into the perimeter.
It is comparable to the benefits Houston saw with Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza shooting deep threes last year, opening up the mid-range and low post for teammates. Even if Anderson and Ariza weren’t as efficient as they could have been, they were more effective in relation to what Houston was trying to do offensively.
The three-ball was revolutionized by the Golden State Warriors, utilized by the Houston Rockets and now the Sixers are playing catch-up using Robert Covington and J.J. Redick as the free-slinging deep threats.
So, what are these three-point bombs doing for the Sixers, other than adding three points on the board? Giving Ben Simmons more room to work along the perimeter.
Think about the team structure of Houston and Philadelphia. James Harden commands the offense by driving to the rim. His completeness on offense also gives him an edge on helpless defenders, but the spacing around him gives him room to operate. This outside factor is amplified for Simmons, whose major flaw is the lack of a jump shot. Covington’s efficiency is spreading the offense to an unseeable point.
Redick’s performance from the outside was expected and Markelle Fultz’s early struggles were concerning. Suddenly, Covington went from being the fifth option on offense, to an irreplaceable cog in an offense that would be squeezed on the inside.
The improved shooting stroke has been wondrous. Covington’s hitch has decreased to the point where his jump shot actually looks like one fluid movement. His body is squared, and he has a quicker release on contested catch and shoot opportunities.
This is him in 2016:
And in 2017:
The biggest change seems to be the point of release, which is much higher and closer to his face in 2017. His elbow is also in tighter, forming an all-around better angle for him as a shooter.
He has still suffered from expected off-nights in these eight games. But this time, his 2-for-7 nights seem more meaningful thanks to his shot selection. Covington has averaged 14.6 points on a 62.0 true shooting percentage.
Beyond shooting, Covington has moved the ball more freely. It could be the increased pace of the offense, or just that more passing lanes are opened thanks to improved talent, but he is freeing up more space for himself by making these passes.
Covington has never been more effective, and is doing so in a lower usage role. It could be the team is finally built to put him in a position to maximize his talents while hiding his weaknesses. It could just also be the 26-year old has polished his game just before he’s ready for contract negotiations.
These are valuable offensive improvements to what was already a stable defensive force. His confidence shows in transition, with smart decision-making with quicker reactions.
The narrative on him has quickly flipped from a solid defender paired with less than threatening shooting, to a two-way threat ready to earn a big contract. The Sixers have found a wing player who can contribute to a playoff race now, while also fitting the timeline of a growing team.