It’s difficult to believe that the Trail Blazers’ Robert Covington, at 30 years old, is making just his third trip to the NBA playoffs.
He went with Philadelphia in 2017-18 and then again last season with the Houston Rockets.
And it was just last season, in the bubble with the Rockets, that he put a solid exclamation point on his reputation as one of the league’s best 3-and-D players.
Starting at center for Houston, which went all-in on small ball, the 6-7 forward made 50 percent of his three-points shots over 12 games and rattled off a remarkable streak of nine consecutive playoff games in which he shot at least 50 percent from behind the arc.
All while defending players much bigger than he was. That said, he still led the playoffs in steals with 2.5 per game and averaged 1.1 blocked shots a game.
It was a big-time performance under pressure. Was that a confidence booster?
“You know, the dynamics of last year were completely different,” Covington said after Tuesday’s practice.
And ahead is the problem of stopping the man who will likely end up being named the league’s MVP, Denver center Nikola Jokic.
“Jokic can score, he can pass, find the open man, he can do a lot of different things,” Covington said. “So, it’s not just on Nurk or Enes or whoever is guarding him to stop him. It’s on all of us, because we can’t leave Nurk, or whoever is guarding him on an island.”
Good defenders are most often a blend of experience, athletic ability and pride.
“The one thing that I think kind of gets underplayed a little bit is that defense is a talent, just like offense is a talent,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “It's more than just playing hard. I think it implies physical tools.
“Experience matters and that's experience at the mental side. That's why veteran players are usually better defenders than younger players, because (younger players) don't have the experience or the mental part of it.
“I do think that there's a mental toughness component, a pride component. But that being said, not everybody can go out there and say they want to be a great defender and they're going to be a great defender.
“I do think that it is a talent, both physical and intuitive.”
And Covington has shown he has that talent – the physical ability to defend players at multiple positions and be savvy enough to intelligently gamble on plays that result in deflections, blocked shots or steals.
And in the playoffs, when defense takes center stage, Covington is going to be a very important Trail Blazer.