Many of the players behind Robert Covington on Sports Illustrated’s list of the Top 100 NBA players appear more skilled than he is at basketball.

Ricky Rubio (No. 57) regularly dishes out no-look dimes. Eric Blesdoe (No. 53) is a ridiculous athlete. Devin Booker (No. 50) is an incredibly talented scorer. 

Covington has none of these skills. He rarely dribbles the ball or tries to cross up a defender, because he is not especially adept at it. He got benched for T.J. McConnell in the postseason. There is nothing about him that screams, “This is a good basketball player.”

But Covington is 100 percent deserving of his spot at No. 48 on SI’s list.

Covington earned his spot on the All-Defensive First Team last season. He finished sixth in the league in steals and first in deflections. Among players who played in 50 or more games and averaged 25 or more minutes per game, only Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert had a better defensive rating. 

Sure, he occasionally gets burned by one of the stars he matches up with every game, but it seems pretty hard to argue that Covington isn’t a top defensive wing.

The case against Covington’s offensive ability is a lot easier to make. Part of the reason for that is he doesn’t tend to play very well when the Sixers lose — last season, Covington shot 44.4 percent in wins, compared to 34.8 percent in losses. So while the fans who make him the scapegoat whenever the Sixers lose may be misguided, you can see where they’re coming from. 


Covington is a high-volume, slightly above-average three-point shooter. He attempted 550 three-pointers last season, tied for eighth most in the NBA, and made 36.9 percent, just above the league average.

Since midrange jumpers and finishing around the basket aren’t Covington’s strengths, he attempted only 286 two-point shots; Covington made just 53.1 percent of his layups and 29.9 percent of his shots between three feet out and the edge of the arc last season. He’s a limited offensive player who knows his weaknesses and rarely steps out of his comfort zone. There’s nothing about his offensive game that’s daring or exciting or exceptional, but the essence of his job is to take and make a lot of threes. He’s good at that job.

Covington’s poor showing in the postseason against the Celtics is probably the best argument for him being too high on the list. That series, in which Covington averaged 6.8 points per game and shot 26.8 percent from the field, illustrated how his value diminishes when his shot isn’t falling. 

And though he’s a top defender, Covington isn’t a classic “shutdown” defender. You can’t stick him on Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum and expect his man to be a non-factor the rest of the game.

But the reality is, in the big picture, Covington is an outstanding 3-and-D player. There’s nothing eye-catching about diligent off-ball defense and deflections, yet when the Sixers are winning, Covington is usually playing well. Sure, he’d be a better player if he could break defenders down off the dribble, reliably hit midrange jumpers and create offense for his teammates. But don’t let his obvious weaknesses overshadow his valuable strengths. 

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