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It is Time to End the Covington Slander

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

On November 15th, Robert Covington was given a 4-year, $62 million extension by the Sixers after getting off to an extremely hot start to the current campaign. The terms of the deal were team friendly: Covington would get a $15 million raise this season, bringing his pay for 2017-2018 to $16 million. But for the 4 years following, his pay would be $10 mil, $10.8 mil, $11.6 mil and $12.4 mil.

The deal was praised, and so was Covington. And there still is many Sixers fans glowing about the contract. However, since then, a faction of fans have perceived Rock to be slumping, and the salary to be a possible problem moving forward.

The crowd shading Covington usually has one of the following arguments:

  • He’s not as good as a 3PT shooter as we thought
  • He’s a liability offensively
  • He got paid, and is no longer motivated to play good basketball

All of this leading anti-Cov Sixers fans to conclude: he’s simply not a very good basketball player given his role, and not worth the money he’s been given.

That conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth.

Robert Covington has remained a premier wing throughout this season. Not only is he a force defensively, but on offense, his presence alone increases team effectiveness. He has proven himself to be one of the most underrated players in the entire association.

Quite simply put: the Sixers are a better basketball team when Robert Covington is on the floor.

Has Covington’s traditional box score stats declined a bit since the extension? Sure. Wait, no. Actually, not really:

The graph splits Cov’s box score stats between his first 13 games before getting the extension, and then every game from November 15th to the Bucks’ game this past Sunday night. (Adding last night’s Hornets game would only help his cause, if ever so slightly.) As the table illustrates, Covington’s traditional measures have stayed pretty much on par other than a drop off in points, by about 5. The drop off can be attributed to two things: the addition of Dario Saric into the starting lineup and Covington’s regression from an exorbitant 3PT% to a more grounded 37% on the season.

Now if you want to drag Covington for his below average 3PT shooting since the extension (33.1%), then sure, go ahead. But we’ve always known Covington to be a very streaky shooter. When you take a look at his shooting history rather than what he’s done lately, you can glean more about what he really is.

While playing at Tennessee State, Covington was a career 42.2% 3PT shooter through four years. With the Sixers, his yearly percentages are 37.4%, 35.3%, 33.3%, and this year’s 37%. Through a career 1773 3PA, Covington’s number comes to 35.8% from 3, right about average. You tell me what’s more likely: he’s the near 36% shooter he’s been through 4 years with the Sixers, or he’s actually the 33% shooter he’s been in his last 48 games. I’ll go with the former, but that’s just me.

He’s no Klay Thompson or JJ Redick; but when he’s on the court, his reputation provides the threat needed to space the floor. And we know it works!

The following chart, data courtesy of NBAWowy, shows how the Sixers perform:

a) With Covington on the court before the extension
b) With Covington on the court after the extension
c) With Covington off the court, all season long

The Sixers as a team have taken a dip in shooting since RoCo’s extension, which we can partly thank his own shooting dip for. But the decline is nothing compared to how the Sixers perform when Covington is on the bench! The Sixers score 1.12 points per possession when Covington is on, and 1.05 when Covington is off. Thus eradicating any notion that he’s an offensive liability.

Defensively, the opponent scores nearly identically whether Cov is on or off. However, Covington’s strength on defense isn’t forcing players into bad shots. It is a fact that he is beat easily by smaller, quicker guards. Where he really leaves his mark, though, is playing team defense off-ball.

Covington is 2nd in the NBA in passes deflected per game, with 3.9. He excels at jumping passing lanes as quickly as they come into existence due to his tremendous awareness and quick hands. Disrupting possessions before a shot is ever put up won’t affect the opponent’s FG%. But it will affect their ability to score the basketball.

Covington has been such a dominant two-way player, in fact, that ESPN’s real plus/minus ranks Covington 3rd best at small forward, behind only Otto Porter and LeBron James, and ahead of Kevin Durant and Paul George. Haters will say, “you can obviously see the flaw in RPM if Covington is ahead of Durant and George.” Okay, fine. RPM is flawed. Yet to still come to the conclusion that Covington is hurting the Sixers, you must disregard not only RPM, but the on-off numbers as well. Because they give credence to the argument that Covington is, in fact, a major factor in the Sixers playing well.

It really all comes down to this: more likely than not, ball-watching is leading you to the conclusion that Covington is a negative player. You see a cold streak of ill-advised 3PTs, but you miss his gravity on the floor. You see him occasionally get beat by a quick first step, but you don’t notice the pass the opposing point guard was never able to make.

Many nights, whether the 3 falls or not for Lord Covington indicates for others whether or not he provided value. But Covington is an extremely valuable piece of the Sixers core in so many more ways than his 3PT shot. Aside from his very team friendly deal, and aside from the lack of bonafide 3-and-D wings in the league, Covington remains one of the most effective wings in the NBA. Throw in the factors we’ve put aside, and he’s right up there with some of the best contractual steals in the league.