It’s hard to understand the Robert Covington hate, but he’s easily the most polarizing athlete in Philadelphia.
The mere mention of Covington’s name either brings deep vitriol or glowing admiration in the case of Process truthers. It's so odd that Covington is also revered by the national media, but ripped by his own fan base. That's the antithesis of every Philly athlete.
In writing this column, I’ve mentally prepared myself to be bombarded by angry comments and tweets. I know I won’t win the detractors over by giving you the analytical side of things. Telling you he finished eighth in the NBA in real plus-minus — just behind Anthony Davis and in front of Kyle Lowry and Russell Westbrook — likely won’t sway you.
But maybe I can appeal to your emotional side by proposing that Robert Covington is the perfect Philadelphia athlete.
(Hang with me here for a second.)
Covington is the ultimate underdog. He was recruited by just two schools — Tennessee State, where he attended, and Sacramento State — coming out of high school. After a successful college career, he didn’t receive an invite to the pre-draft combine and went undrafted.
As a pro, he toiled away in the D-League before Sam Hinkie plucked him from the Rockets’ organization after Houston waived him. He then endured “the process,” which included a 10-win season among other embarrassments.
He’s turned all of that into a starting job on a playoff team, a nice contract extension (side note: the “Covington hasn’t hit a shot since he got his new deal” comment is the laziest and dumbest thing ever; during the Sixers’ 16-game win streak to close the season, he shot 39 percent on almost seven attempts from three a night) and being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team. He’s been recognized as one of the top-50 players in the NBA by two respected outlets. Sylvester Stallone couldn't write this stuff.
All of that with the humility to match.
“It does [feel good to be named a top-50 player], but it’s just a testament to hard work,” Covington said at practice Thursday. “Can’t settle for nothing. That’s just a ranking to me honestly. It’s about something about last year based off of how we played, but it’s a whole different year, you can’t get caught up in what you did last year.”
Covington has obvious weaknesses as a basketball player. He can be an insanely streaky shooter, he doesn’t do well when asked to put the ball on the floor and he’s not a great finisher at the rim. These are issues he’s always had but that really came into focus during last season’s playoff loss to the Boston Celtics.
But do you expect a guy who came from nothing and had to work his tail off to get everything he has to just rest on his laurels? Of course not. Covington is well aware of his shortcomings and you better believe he’s doing everything in his power to correct them.
He talked extensively Thursday about his training sessions this offseason. He’s watched a ton of film and realized it’s not just the technical aspect of his dribble and finishes. He’s been focusing on how defenses are playing him and reading and reacting in the moment.
Covington is far from the perfect basketball player. He’s not an All-Star and certainly not the third star the Sixers are looking for.
But he’s worked hard to become the player he is and that should be enough to earn him the respect of all Sixers fans.