By the numbers: A closer look at Robert Covington's defensive prowess

By the numbers: A closer look at Robert Covington's defensive prowess

A key subplot during another Sixers season marred by injury has been Robert Covington's growth from rotational NBA player to legitimate starter.

Now in Year 3 with the Sixers, Covington has solidified himself as a starting-caliber 3-and-D player, a self-explanatory role that every team seeks to fill.

There will always be a place in an NBA lineup for a 6-foot-9 forward who hits threes, guards the opposing team's best perimeter player, nabs two steals per game and hits 80 percent of his free throws.

Think Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, James Posey.

Covington quickly emerged as a perimeter threat when the Sixers signed him away from the D-League in November 2014. In that first season, he shot a career-best 37.4 percent from three and showed glimpses of being a lockdown defender.

He's only built on that defensive success, becoming the type of agitator that opposing coaches warn their players about.

Here are a few stats behind Covington's defensive prowess:

• The players Covington has guarded this season have a collective field goal percentage of 45.4 percent when not facing him. Against him, they've shot 42.5 percent.

From three, Covington's opponents have shot 34.5 percent against him compared to 36.2 percent against everyone else.

• Covington averages 2.9 steals per 48 minutes -- fifth-most in the NBA among players with at least 50 games this season, behind only Manu Ginobili, Chris Paul, Draymond Green and Tony Allen.

• His company is even more exclusive when you account for blocks. Covington is averaging 1.9 steals and 1.0 block per game. The only three others averaging at least 1.5 steals and 1.0 block are Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Andre Drummond.

• It goes beyond steals, though. How about all those times Covington strips a ball that lands in a teammate's hands, or when he knocks a pass out of bounds to force the opponent to run a new set? Covington leads the NBA with 4.3 deflections per game. The only other player above 4.0 is Green.

• Covington's offense has also improved as the season's gone on. He struggled badly from three early in the season but has made more threes each month since December:

December: 26.7 percent

January: 35.9

February: 39.1 

March: 39.7 

Remember that 0-for-11 game Covington had in Utah at the end of December? That's right around the time the boos were at their loudest.

In 35 games since, Covington has averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.2 blocks, shot 38 percent from three and 84 percent from the line. Talk about filling it up.

• The high arc on Covington's jumper enables him to get a three off even when a hand's in his face, but he's also become more well-rounded offensively this season. He's finishing better in traffic and adjusting his game to take more shots near the rim as defenders close out on him beyond the arc.

• And on shots between 3 and 16 feet, Covington has improved from 23.0 percent last season to 28.2 this season. Still not a good mark by any stretch, but he's improved upon that weakness. Mid-range shots are out of style in today's NBA, but you still need to show the ability to make a few to open up space elsewhere on the court.

Is Covington ever going to be a second- or third-leading scorer on a good team? Probably not, but that wasn't the role that got him to the NBA, the role that allowed him to stick with the Sixers or to grow into this 3-and-D prototype.

When you add the solid defense to those numbers over his last half-season, you get production any team would take. 

Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

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Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown is "star hunting." He's not naming names, but it's clear that LeBron James is at the top of his (and everybody's) list.

Until free agency officially starts on July 1, there's going to be plenty of speculation about whether the Sixers can actually land James. Bovada's latest odds on which team James will be playing for in Game 1 of the 2018-19 season don't give the Sixers a great shot.

The Lakers are now strong favorites, at 4/13. That's presumably because Spurs star Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio and would like to return to his hometown of Los Angeles, specifically with the Lakers. Though the Spurs have said they want to keep Leonard if possible and reports are they don't want to trade him to a team in the Western Conference, the Lakers would definitely be a much more enticing option for James if they managed to get Leonard. 

The Sixers have the fourth-best odds, which are listed in full below.

What team will LeBron James play for Game 1 of the 2018-2019 Season?
Los Angeles Lakers                   4/13
Cleveland Cavaliers                   13/4
Houston Rockets                      15/2
Philadelphia 76ers                     10/1
Boston Celtics                          18/1
San Antonio Spurs                    20/1
Los Angeles Clippers                25/1                                           
New York Knicks                       30/1
Miami Heat                                40/1

2018-19 Rookie of the Year Odds

This season's Rookie of the Year hasn't even been announced yet. We'll know Monday night whether Ben Simmons brings home the award. But the odds for next season's Rookie of the Year are already out, and one of the newest Sixers, first-round pick Zhaire Smith, appears on Bovada's odds.

Unsurprisingly, Smith, who has a lot of room to grow (see story), is a long shot. The No. 16 selection has 45/1 odds to win. No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton has the best odds at 13/5, followed by the Mavs' Luka Doncic and the Kings' Marvin Bagley III. Mikal Bridges has 22/1 odds, while fellow Villanova product and new Milwaukee Buck Donte DiVincenzo makes an appearance at 40/1.

The complete odds are below.

2018-2019 NBA Rookie of the Year – Odds to Win
Deandre Ayton                          13/5
Luka Doncic                              3/1
Marvin Bagley                           9/2
Trae Young                               7/1
Jaren Jackson Jr                       9/1
Mohamed Bamba                      11/1
Kevin Knox                               15/1
Michael Porter Jr                       15/1
Mikal Bridges                            22/1
Collin Sexton                            22/1
Miles Bridges                            28/1
Wendell Carter Jr                       28/1
Donte DiVincenzo                     40/1
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander          40/1
Zhaire Smith                              45/1
Lonnie Walker                           50/1
Robert Williams                         50/1

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With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

Even Brett Brown had to admit just how much of a whirlwind this month has been for him.

“This has been a really different June,” he said after the 2018 NBA draft.

That’s certainly an understatement.

In a matter of weeks, Brown went from drawing up plays during the postseason to orchestrating his first draft as interim general manager. And there’s no time to take a breath with free agency barreling down the calendar on July 1.

While Brown has been tasked with running the Sixers’ front office operations for the time being (see story), he has also been put in charge of an even bigger challenge: reshaping the team’s image.

No matter your feelings on the Bryan Colangelo saga, there is no denying it was a black eye for the Sixers. One the franchise could ill afford heading into such an important summer.

So Brown set out to show that the Sixers are truly all about the player-friendly, tight-knit and development culture they have cultivated throughout “the process.” The reinforcement started with grabbing a pair of players in the draft with not only first-round talent, but first-rate character.

“When you look at sort of the values that were most important to us as we decided how to grow this team and select our players, there were none more important than just good people and character,” Brown said Friday of first-rounders Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet. “Personally, when you would see me work the players out and then intermittently we would call people into my office, there was a connection and a comfort level that I had just talking to them as people.”

Of course talent trumps everything and Brown admitted the duo was ultimately snagged because of basketball ability above all else. However, it’s no coincidence that both players are soft-spoken and eager to grind for whatever minutes come their way on the court.

“I just want to come in here, put my work in and let it play out,” Smith said.

“At the end of the day, I just want to be a player that’s known to do whatever a coach needs me to do,” Shamet said. “Whatever the staff or my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to be. … Coming in and working hard and doing what I can on a day-to-day basis.”

What’s a little competition between family?

Oh, make no mistake, the Sixers see the program they’ve constructed as a family. And now that the branch of the tree that tends to talk way too much on social media is gone, Brown wants every draft pick that enters the building (and superstar that is willing to listen) to know this organization is a place you want to be.

“We’d like to welcome Zhaire’s family, we’d like to welcome Landry’s family to our home,” Brown said. “As I told these two young players, [they have] the ability to walk into this building and look up behind us and recognize the true history of this organization. To be able to look around and see the backyard that they now have and see sports science, and see a strength and conditioning program, and see an analytics department, and seeing the medical staff, and seeing the video area, and looking at our kitchen, which we kind of designed almost like a college atmosphere where we all go up as a team, as a family, an organization and spend time. This is their backyard where they’re going to get better.”

Now Brown hopes the franchise is stable enough again to add a high-profile name to the family by the time the July 4 BBQ rolls around.

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