December 26, 2015
I like Robert Covington as a potential trade target for a playoff team, but he’s not without his flaws. Covington is notably overextended in his current high-usage role in Philadelphia, and he has been developing some bad habits on both sides of the ball. Nevertheless, as a spot-up shooter and 3rd or 4th option he can be a productive player on offense, and his defensive versatility and tenacity should merit playing time on any team in the league.
Five Scouting Observations
- Poor P&R Ball Handler
On Covington’s 26 possessions as a Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler, the Sixers have scored just 7 points, or 0.27 PPP, placing Covington in the bottom 1 percentile. This year Covington has played in several lineups with no true point guard (Canaan and Stauskas each average under 3 assists per 36), and as a result he has taken on more ball-handling duties. He’s clearly overtaxed as anything resembling a primary ball handler and tries to do too much in that role, like splitting a double team, threading the needle on a pass, or racing to the rim off the dribble.
When Covington acts as the pick-and-roll ball handler, turnovers follow. More than half of those possessions have ended in a turnover (14 of 26), and while Covington’s assists are up this year, from 1.9 to 2.3 per 36 minutes, his turnovers have increased by a much larger percentage from 2.4 to a whopping 3.7 per 36. He possesses neither the tight handle nor the decision-making ability to succeed as a ball-dominant player.
- Can’t Drive Left
To cement the point that Covington is ill-suited to play a ball-dominant role in the offense, over the past 2 seasons the Sixers have scored a measly 2 points on Covington’s 15 drives to the left in isolation, while turning the ball over 9 times. When Covington dribbles with his left hand he carries the ball high and away from his body, such that he’s always somewhat out of control and has difficulty gathering the ball to shoot or pass. Defenders are often able to get a hand on the ball or establish position in front of him and draw a charge.
- Shooting efficiency down this year due to team structure
Covington is scoring 0.94 PPP on jump shots (59th percentile) and 1.03 PPP in catch-and-shoot situations (54th percentile), so he’s been solid with his jumper, but last year he was substantially better. In 2014-15 he rated in the 70th percentile or better in each category as well as in overall offensive efficiency, which this year has fallen to a below-average 0.83 PPP (29th percentile).
Much of the drop-off seems to be the product of getting lower quality looks. Last season opposing defenses keyed in on Philadelphia’s high-usage point guards—Michael Carter-Williams and to a lesser extent Tony Wroten and Ish Smith—whereas this year Covington has assumed the role of leading scorer on the perimeter and faced increased defensive attention as a result. Just 18.5% of his catch-and-shoot jumpers this year have been unguarded compared to 25.2% last year.
Covington feasted on those unguarded opportunities last year (1.42 PPP), particularly following offensive rebounds and when defenses collapsed on MCW, Wroten, or Ish Smith, leaving Covington wide open.
This year the team’s offensive rebounding has fallen off, dropping from 12th in the league to 23rd, and Covington’s open looks have become not only rarer but also more unpredictable, at times causing Covington to rush his shot or catch the ball in a less-than-ideal shooting position.
- Deceptively poor ratings on defense
Covington rates as a poor defender overall as well as against Jump Shots, Spot Ups, and Off Screens, though these ratings are quite misleading. He is a very active and disruptive help defender, resulting in greatly improved team defense when he is on the floor (5.1 fewer points allowed per 100 possessions) despite his lackluster individual numbers. Covington often reinforces the interior defense before closing out on a shooter or sometimes multiple shooters in a single possession because his teammates are less motivated or capable of doing so.
In fact, though Covington ranks 8th in minutes played on the team, he ranks 2nd in both Spot Ups defended and Isolations defended, demonstrating his high activity level. Sometimes he appears to be guilty of over-helping and losing sight of his man as he shades toward the lane, but clearly his defense is a net benefit overall.
Opponents can seek to take advantage of his aggressive help defense and generate open looks on the perimeter by setting back picks on Covington as he creeps toward the lane.
- Strong, versatile defender in isolation
Covington has allowed just 20 points in 26 isolation possessions, and his assignments have included some of the league’s preeminent isolation scorers: James Harden (#1 in isolation points scored), Carmelo Anthony (#2), LeBron James (#3), Paul George (#7), and Reggie Jackson (#10).
Perhaps most impressively, Covington has forced a turnover twice as often as he or a teammate has committed a foul in such situations. Covington leads the league in steal percentage, and his success forcing turnovers primarily stems from his extraordinarily quick hands, stellar hand-eye coordination, and excellent defensive positioning. He maintains a low defensive stance with his knees bent, his feet wide, and his upper body leaning forward. Occasionally Covington doesn’t move his feet as much as he should and relies too much on his hands, but on a better team with less offensive responsibility and greater incentive to win I’d expect him to keep up his defensive intensity.
Covington also adjusts very well defending players across the positional and skill spectrum. He crowds big men, shooters, and lesser ball handlers while staying in front of quick, ball-dominant guards and forwards by giving them some space while still being in position to contest a shot.
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