It's an absurdly premature conversation to have, but one of the fun things about being over .500 -- after the Philadelphia 76ers squeaked one out against the Clippers in Los Angeles last night, making the days of the bully-on-the-block Clip Show feel many moons ago -- is you get to talk about your team's potential All-Star chances. The Sixers have two guys guaranteed to garner a lot of discussion: Joel Embiid, averaging 21 and 11 and off his minutes restriction and generally making me look foolish, and Ben Simmons, rookie sensation putting up 18-9-8 and invoking LeBron comparisons.
But the guy who actually maybe should have the best All-Star case right now isn't nearly as hyped as either of 'em: Lord Robert Covington. RoCo scored 31 points on 12 shots (!!) last night, including going 5-8 from three (where the rest of the team went a tremendous 2-24), and also racked up six boards and four steals, and countless more clutch defensive plays that don't show up in the box score. On a night where The Process put up 32 and 16 with stellar interior defense -- again, sorry for doubting, Jo -- Rock was still probably the biggest reason they won -- which seems to be an increasingly common occurrence these days.
Even with a (mostly?) healthy Embiid and a stunning Simmons, there's an argument to be made that Covington remains the Sixers' MVP this season. He leads the team in Win Shares and Box Score Plus-Minus, according to Basketball-Reference, as well as in FG% (49.7%) and 3PT% (50.0). (Improbably, he's given up the steals lead to Ben Simmons, though it wouldn't be surprising to see him get that back in a game or two.) The Sixers are 12.9 points better per 100 possessions on offense with him on the court, and 3.5 points worse on defense. He's also 12th in the entire league in ESPN's recently released Real Plus-Minus stat, easily tops among the Sixers. He's a beast.
Would it be enough for All-Star recognition, though? Could be a tough ask, since Covington's counting numbers are still mostly good-not-great: 16.8 PPG and 5.7 RPG, both third on the Sixers behind the team's two obvious stars. If he has a case to be made, it'll have to come as a combination of his three-point shooting numbers -- he's currently top five in the league in both three-point percentage and three-pointers made, the only player in the league combining that level of accuracy and volume from deep -- and the Sixers' record, which will have to be top four or five in the East to get coaches and peers to pay attention. (They're currently tied with the Knicks and Bucks for 6th.)
Even if not, it's probably time to start referring to Covington as one of the Sixers' Big Three, nearly as essential to their team success as Joel Embiid, and probably more important at this point than even Ben Simmons. Rock was our redeemer last night and so many others already in this young season, and if folks across the league are paying attention, they'll at least have to give a long pause on his name when it comes across their desk at mid-season voting time.