One of the biggest surprises for the Philadelphia 76ers last season was the emergence of Robert Covington. As the starting small forward for the Sixers, he’s also the next player I’ll discuss to evaluate his long-term value to the franchise.
After the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward was waived by the Houston Rockets last fall, the Grand Rapids Drive of the NBDL selected him with the first overall pick in the D-League draft. A couple weeks later, the Sixers signed the 24-year-old. His 3-point shooting ability was a much-needed asset for the Sixers, and he went on to average 13.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game on 37 percent shooting from downtown. This percentage was particularly impressive when considering he ranked seventh in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game. He also shot 82 percent from the foul line for good measure.
Overall, he made a strong impact on the team, even though he was mostly known for his shooting. With Michael Carter-Williams having been traded and Tony Wroten tearing his ACL in January, Covington was the 76ers’ leading scorer by the end of the year. He also had the second-highest PER on the team to Nerlens Noel (third-highest if you count Wroten). His PER of 14.72 indicated he was already playing like an average NBA player in only his second season (he played seven games for Houston the previous year). He can also make an impact defensively. Even though he doesn’t have the most lateral quickness, he averaged nearly 1.5 steals per game last season, thanks to his long wingspan’s ability to deflect passes.
As much promise as Covington may have, he, like many of the Sixers’ players, has glaring weaknesses that need improvement in order for him to be a contributor on a winning team. He doesn’t have much fluidity in his drives to the basket, and he has trouble knowing exactly when to shoot versus when to pass, as indicated by last year’s plethora of rushed shots that made his shooting percentages lower than they would’ve been. At the same time, when considering the circumstances of having an extensive green light from head coach Brett Brown, perhaps his shooting decisions will provide a learning curve down the line.
For Covington to continue progressing offensively, he needs to exploit his 6-foot-9 frame by developing a post-up game. Outside of that, much of his further progression will come from the team developing talent around him, such as Jahil Okafor, which will space the floor much better and allow more open shots.
As the Sixers continue their rebuilding process, don’t expect Covington to be their leading scorer when they’re ready to be competitive again. But his game is one that can easily complement any star talent that may emerge in the coming years, making him a possible starter on a contender.