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One (Sixers) Question To Rule Them All: Debating The Importance of Covington and Holmes

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Our panel of LB writers debate if Richaun Holmes balling out or Robert Covington struggling is bigger news.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Philadelphia 76ers recent success over the past couple of games, they're finding help from some unlikely sources. Rookie power forward Richaun Holmes was a vital component in the Sixers 109-99 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, adding 17 points on 7-10 shooting in just 18 minutes of action. Holmes's playing time has been somewhat sporadic over the past five games, but he's managing to contribute 9.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, and a block in nearly 14 minutes of action.

Robert Covington, on the other hand, has struggled to make his impact felt since early December. He played just seven minutes in Monday's victory, and is shooting a shade under 30% from the field.

Although Holmes has been refreshing to watch lately, Covington was supposed to have an impactful role on this Sixers team. Which leads us to the question of the week...

What's bigger news and why: Richaun Holmes excelling, or Robert Covington playing horribly?

Marc Whittington: To me, it's a much bigger story that Robert Covington has been awful than that Holmes has been good. Big Rich has been a fun story this season for the die-hards among us, but it's not clear to me where he fits in the team in the grand scheme. If Joel Embiid comes back healthy and Dario Saric, Holmes will be 4th on the depth chart at center behind Joel, Noel, and Jah, and 4th on the depth chart at power forward behind Nerlens, Jerami, and the Homie. That's before even factoring the possibility that the Sixers draft Simmons, Ellenson, or another big man in the lottery this year. So while Holmes has been a nice story, and I can definitely see him contributing to a contender as a bench big down the road, it's unclear how he'll wind up doing that in Philadelphia.

Covington's role, meanwhile, has been crystal clear. For 12 months, he was the best wing defender and shooter that this team had, and his mere presence on the court elevated the play of the rest of the team. He was actually a plausible foundational piece, especially with his contract and the league's current propensity for strong wing play. Having that player inexplicably disappear is worrying. RoCo can't hit anything right now -- €”even his free throws clang badly off the side of the rim. We need him back in a big way.

Jake Fischer: The only way Richaun Holmes' emergence would outshine Convington's slump is that he's another testament to Sam Hinkie's draft evaluations. Hinkie's handle on the draft -- acquiring and then utilizing picks -- has really been his strongest skill as a GM, and it's arguably the hardest skill to master as a GM.

But I do think Covington's slump has been very worrisome and more troubling for the future. Last season, Covington played and looked the part of very effective starting two-guard, one in the upper echelon of the position across the league. His productivity was not too far off from that of Bradley Beal. To have an elite three-point shooter -- he was top 10 in both 3PA and3PM last season -- be benched on this team is not good, folks.

Max Rappaport: When Pavorsky posed this question, I had two immediate thoughts. 1) It's Robert Covington, and 2) It's not even particularly close. But as I sat down to answer the question more thoughtfully, I realized my answer depends upon what exactly is meant by "bigger news." Is Covington's slump hurting the team more than Holmes' emergence is helping? Absolutely. But I don't know if that makes it more important.

RoCo's a guy I projected to lead the Sixers in scoring this year, and in 28 games this season he's averaging 10.7 points on 36.8% from the floor and 30.9% from deep. Worse yet, he's scored in double figures just once in his past 10 games, shooting under 30% from the floor and making exactly a quarter of his threes during that stretch. He's regressed over the past month, and badly. And on Monday he played exactly six minutes and 30 seconds, his second-lowest total in two seasons as a Sixer.

But here's why I'm going to say Richaun Holmes is the more important story right now... We know what Robert Covington can do. The guy's a lights-out shooter with the length and intangibles to be a plus defender on the other end of the floor. At the end of last year and in the preseason this year, he flashed some ability to pump-fake and drive, doing a pretty decent job of making plays for his teammates in those situations. Then he sprained his knee in the preseason finale in Boston. We all thought at the time it was going to be something that required surgery, but then we got the good news that he'd be back a couple weeks later. Fast forward two weeks, and he gets reinjured in his first game back. Another two weeks, and he's back, but he's struggling badly at this point, missing the first 18 three-pointers he took. The team isn't saying it, and he's not saying it, but I don't think he's 100% healthy right now, and for that reason I'm not super worried about what this means in the long term.

All that said, I'm absolutely thrilled with the way Holmes has been playing lately. I think he's exactly what the Sixers need in a third big in the coming years, a guy who can play both 4 and 5 effectively, is a committed defensive player, brings a ton of energy, can stretch the floor a little bit. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch on this team. Right now, he's much, much better than K.J. McDaniels was last season, and after Noel, Okafor, Ish, and Embiid, he's right there with Jerami Grant and Robert Covington as guys who absolutely should be here next season and beyond barring a larger deal for an established player.

Roy Burton: Max's initial thoughts are perfectly in line with where I'm at right now: It's Robert Covington, and it's not even particularly close.

After last season, the consensus was that Covington was a more-than-capable two-way player with an above-average NBA skill. You can disagree on what his ceiling will ultimately be - I think he's a solid rotation player on a decent team - but he was (and is) a legit gem unearthed by Sam Hinkie who has far outplayed his team-friendly contract.
All that said, the last couple of weeks have been a bit troubling. In early December, he was a guy you plug in at the starting 3 spot without thinking twice. Now, he's the 10th/11th man on the worst team in the league.

The hand-wringing we're doing over RoCo will be probably be short-lived (assuming this is nothing more than a mere slump), but the extent of his struggles far outweighs the optimism generated by Richaun Holmes' play this season.

Jake Pavorsky: I would have to go with Covington, just because this team so desperately needs a good perimeter shooter. Philadelphia is 28th in the league in three-point percentage, and Covington's current outside shooting failures are a large reason for that. But I think the most disappointing thing about RoCo is that he's just not making his impact felt in any other way. He's been miserable on drives to the lane, is turning the ball over at a high rate, and can't play consistently large minutes without racking up a ton of fouls. At the beginning of the season I thought he was the team's best wing defender, but now he looks somewhat disinterested on that end of the floor.

I'm happy that Holmes is playing well, but as Marc alluded to, his role is probably going to be minimal with the likely addition of a couple key big men. I think his future with the team is murky, along with a handful of other front court guys.

Last year I viewed Covington as a real piece that the team could hold onto once they emerged from their rebuild period. But a lot of guys are starting to find their rhythm within this system, and Covington isn't one of them. I think that's a really big story.