Philadelphia 76ers: Extending Robert Covington is a must

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 1: T.J. McConnell #12 and Robert Covington #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers react in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 1, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Lakers 103-91. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 1: T.J. McConnell #12 and Robert Covington #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers react in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 1, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Lakers 103-91. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Robert Covington is under contract for one more season.  The Philadelphia 76ers must make it a priority to sign him to a long term extension.

When Sam Hinkie acquired Robert Covington from the Houston Rockets in 2014, there were not very many people that believed he would stick on the roster.  The forward out of Tennessee State University was not exactly a highly touted recruit coming out of college, as he went undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers /

Philadelphia 76ers

He spent the majority of his first season in the D-League playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game.  He showed flashes of a potentially great “3 and D” player during this stint, but his game was still too raw and inconsistent to stick on the Rockets roster.

Covington joined the Philadelphia 76ers during the early stages of “The Process,” and was seen as a player who was only brought in to help the team tank.  To everyone but Hinkie’s surprise, Covington actually performed well under the circumstances and carved out a role as a shooter on the struggling roster.

He shot 37.4 percent from three and scored 13.5 points per game in his first season in Philadelphia, which established himself as at least a capable scorer moving forward.  On defense, he was still learning how to properly use his 7-foot-2 wingspan to his advantage, and players actually shot 1.4 percent better when defended by him.

His second year in the league, his three point percentage dipped to 35.3 percent, while his defense improved by forcing players to shoot 0.6 percent worse from the field.  This trend continues into the 2016-2017 season in a big way.

This past season, Covington’s three point percentage once again took a dip, as he shot 33.3 percent.  His defense also once again improved, but instead of seeing another minor jump in production, he burst onto the scene as one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire NBA.

On the year, Robert Covington was one of only four players in the NBA to average 1.5+ steals and 1.0+ blocks per game.  By averaging 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game last year, he joined Giannis Antetokounmpo (Second Team All-Defense), Draymond Green (Defensive Player of the Year winner), and Andre Drummond on the list of those who accomplished this feat.

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Covington forced opponents to shoot 3.4 percent worse from the field, and he posted a solid 103.3 defensive rating on the season.  He also led the entire NBA in deflections per game on defense, getting 4.2 per game.  His length and quickness allowed him to pester opposing offenses by jumping passing lanes and deflecting passes at an elite rate.

Not only 76ers fans took note of this leap in defensive production.  Robert Covington finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting, placing behind Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, and Kawhi Leonard.  That is extremely elite company to be a part of, and moving forward it is not unrealistic to see Robert Covington’s name on an All-Defense team in the future.

Next summer Robert Covington is a free agent.  “The Process” is finally beginning to transition from the tanking stage to the winning stage, and if the Sixers were smart they would lock up Covington for the long haul.

The 76ers outscored their opponents in every lineup that featured Embiid and Covington on the court except the one lineup that also featured Jahlil Okafor.  With Okafor expected to either be moved to another team or see a major decrease in minutes, the duo of Embiid and Covington should once again dominate the defensive side of the ball together.

With Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons expected to make their debuts this fall, the team needs someone who can defend any position from point guard to power forward.  Both Fultz and Simmons have shown potential to be very good defensive players, but their consistency is still a question mark.  Having a Defensive Player of the Year-level perimeter defender to take the pressure off of two offensively focused elite young talents is exactly what the team needs moving forward.

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Covington may be steadily decreasing in efficiency from beyond the arc every year, but that trend should reverse this season.  In the previous three seasons, Covington often found himself as the second option on offense, which he is simply not talented enough to be.  With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Dario Saric, Covington will not need to be anything more than a fifth option on offense, which should open him up to more open looks.

In 2018, the 76ers will have about 27 million dollars in cap space with almost 60 million dollars available in luxury tax space.  Money is clearly not an issue for the Sixers at this point in time.  Covington has proven his worth by working hard and shining on a bleak team with nothing to play for year in and year out.  Extending Covington is not only the logical thing to do, but the morally correct thing to do, as he was one of the few “Process” Sixers that have stuck around through the lowest points in franchise history.

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Covington will probably demand a contract in the range of 15-20 million dollars per year, and as long as the team doesn’t overpay on other free agents, this would be worth it.  He may not be the biggest name or have the flashiest game on the team, but he is without question one of the most important players on the roster.  Extending Robert Covington is exactly what anyone who “Trusts the Process” would do, so in Sam Hinkie’s name it must be done.