It is the firm position of this blog that Robert Covington is an excellent basketball player who is about to make a ton of money. So when a writer for the league’s official website earmarks him as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate, best believe my ears are perking up.
Fran Blinebury, who covers the league for NBA.com, released a list of potential candidates for the 2017-18 Sixth Man of the Year, and alongside other mainstays in the voting—Jamal Crawford, Andre Iguodala, Eric Gordon, and Lou Williams—he shouted out Covington as a player to watch.
Here’s what Blinebury had to say (bold emphasis mine):
While everybody was getting caught up in the excitement that Joel Embiid brought to the Sixers, if only for 31 games, the hard-charging small forward was carving out a permanent place on the young roster that is finally moving out of the rut of intentional failure. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds as a starter last year, but now will move to the bench with the arrival of Ben Simmons.
That’s the perfect place for this guy that can score from outside, attack the boards and also be a top-flight defender. The award usually goes to a key contributor on a winning team and the Sixers aren’t there yet. But he could votes this season if Philly is at long last on the rise and is a candidate to watch in the future.
The problem with this suggestion is it rests on a belief that Covington will move to the bench. Though there might be specific matchups where Brett Brown messes with the lineups, it is pretty unlikely that Covington will be moved out of the starting lineup.
For one, the Sixers need all the shooting and defense they can get around Ben Simmons, and the easiest route to that goal is by playing the team’s best wing defender next to him. Covington transformed into one of the league’s best perimeter defenders last season, and though an awful start from downtown depressed his percentages, don’t bet on him to come out as cold as he did in 2016-17, even if he’s a slow starter traditionally.
Covington is finally in a position to succeed as a starter. He’s likely to get more high-quality looks this season playing alongside playmakers like Simmons and Markelle Fultz, and the attention drawn inside by Joel Embiid and the shooter’s gravity created by JJ Redick will also aid Covington’s quest to bring his shooting percentages back up. His offensive game is not one of creation, unlike other 6MOY candidates, which makes him a better option as a fourth or fifth starter, as opposed to the offensive spark plug off the bench.
Maybe long-term they figure out how to play together, but Dario Saric is the man more likely to cede his spot to Simmons out of the gate. He’s better equipped to shoulder a playmaking burden with the second unit than Covington is, and the defensive question marks for the team decrease if you spread Saric’s minutes out in a way that keep him and Simmons defending fours for most of their minutes.
Still, it’s nice to see Covington getting some recognition for how important he has been and will be to the team’s success. Until we see what Brett Brown wants to do, however, I wouldn’t get too overzealous about putting money on him to win Sixth Man of the Year.