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
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.