With the glamour of an Association headlined by talented players, decorated coaches, and celebrated traditions, it’s easy to forget the identity of the NBA’s little brother: the D-League.
With the Sixers turning a new leaf in player development headlined by GM Sam Hinkie’s belief in “optionality”, the D-League may just be the only source the Sixers have to find young, middle-of-the-road players willing to come off the bench and play for a team this early in its rebuilding process. That being said, many of these mentioned players don’t stick around for more than a season, let alone become part of a blueprint for a team with future championship aspirations.
Then came November 15th 2014, the fateful day our Philadelphia 76ers signed Robert Covington.
Us Sixers fans had seen a carousel of young D-League talent fly in and fly out of Philly in 2013-14, so signing yet another young prospect off of his stint with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers wasn’t quite the “eyebrow raiser” many of us were looking for. The long, 6-foot-9 small forward entered the Sixers organization quite decorated. Covington won D-League rookie of the year in 2014 along with being named the D-League All-Star game MVP and earning NBA D-League first team honors. The hardware won by Covington didn’t carry much weight, however. Out of all of the NBA D-League rookie of the year winners dating back to the 2001-2002 season, the most recognizable names found include Alonzo Gee, Will Bynum, and Lou Amundson (remember him?).
Could Robert do anything to prove he is capable of leaping across the bridge that separates D-League studs and solid NBA players? If the 2014-15 season is any indication, that answer is a resounding YES.
Covington didn’t exactly burst onto the scene his first month in Philly. In November, he averaged only 4.6 points per game but, as with Nerlens Noel’s talent progession, we had yet to see the best from him. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the next five months of the NBA season saw Covington’s individual monthly averages amount to at least 10 points scored and 2 three-pointers made per game. This was quite the feat for an NBA team that sat near the bottom of the ranks in points per game for the 2014-15 season. Stellar three-point shooting attributed to Covington being dubbed the nickname “RC3” and, eventually, having the luxury of being selected to the NBA Rising Stars Challenge. The bright lights of the Wells Fargo Center didn’t seem to faze Robert, as he hovered around 30 minutes played per game for the months of December through April. As these minutes piled up and the season wore on, Robert’s body didn’t seem to lose any steam. RC3 missed a mere three games last season, which was a welcome sight to a team that was deeply entrenched in a seemingly never-ending battle of overcoming the past injuries of prized big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.
It goes without saying Robert Covington impressed us all last season with his play. Covington provided a three-point threat that the Sixers used to space the floor and keep teams more than honest on the three-point line. As the NBA offseason looms and moves are bound to be made regarding the composition of the Sixers roster, we must answer the question: Should we keep Robert Covington?
Let’s look at the facts. Covington is 6-foot-9 and when played at the small forward position, he can have quite an advantage on the defensive end. If the Sixers truly intend on building towards becoming a defensive powerhouse, Brett Brown and his coaching staff may have to put on their Chip Kelly glasses and place the size of a player as one of the defining factors of their worth. Plus, if the Sixers keep any combination of Embiid, Noel, and recent draft pick Jahlil Okafor together and plan on giving them overlapping minutes, Covington would do wonders in a starting role/coming off the bench and helping unclog the paint. Covington displayed several times last season that he has the ability to catch fire from three-point range for a long period of time: he had 31 (!) games in which he hit at least 3 three-pointers. Covington also was able to stay durable while logging minutes uncommon to any young player entering the Association. I must mention his attitude which has never been called into question, and he seems like a player from humble beginnings who is willing to work hard.
Summer is upon us and grades are now due. Robert Covington may just as well be an up and coming player who breaks the mold of all previous D-Leaguers.
The NBA D-League gets an A.