During the fourth quarter of last night's preseason loss to the Celtics, Robert Covington suffered a right knee sprain, leaving the game in the process. He was later hobbling on crutches according to Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News. With an MRI coming later today, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the full extent of Covington's injury is unknown, but the thought of him being sidelined for a significant period of time is damaging to an already shaky Sixers team.
Despite Nerlens Noel's second-half surge into a defensive monster, Covington was likely the team's best all-around player last year, knocking down 37.4% of his triples on 446 attempts while playing solid defense across multiple positions. On a team expected to be centered around Noel and Jahlil Okafor sharing the floor and clogging the paint this season, floor spacing is at a premium for this team.
Having Covington in the lineup is so integral to making that frontcourt pairing work with his ability to shift around the arc and knock down threes. Hollis Thompson may have made a higher percentage of his threes last season (40.1%) and Nik Stauskas may have more longterm upside as the eighth pick in last year's draft, but neither presents the immediate on-court impact that Covington has had as a Sixer. Covington was shooting that well last season while frequently the only player on the floor for his team with any semblance of an outside shot. He likely would've improved his three-point percentage this year with more shooters around him and Okafor sucking defenders onto the low block.
If Covington were to miss a chunk of this season, the effect his absence would have on Okafor's early development is even more worrying. During the times I've written about Okafor's potential success as a Sixer, I've frequently mentioned Covington as the player who would most aid him on his way to becoming a great NBA center, as seen below:
When Jah Rule is pounding post defenders into dust as he does above, he's sucking help defenders into the paint and turning opponents inward. If one of them happens to be Big Shot Bob's man, the Sixers are in a perfect position offensively to take a high-percentage shot and execute, whether that be through Okafor willing himself to the rim or Jah finding Covington very open for an easy three-point basket. Okafor's passing in the post has been frequently praised, and rightfully so...
Not only would it be great for team if Okafor were to get double-teamed in the post and find a wide-open Covington for an easy trey in the corner, but Covington's reputation as a knock-down shooter continuing to grow could cause defenders to stick with Covington, allowing Okafor to be single-teamed and have some easy attempts at the rim.
The timing for those plays, much like everything with this franchise it seems, will have to be delayed for now.