Philadelphia 76ers: Understanding The Struggles Of Robert Covington

Oct 11, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington (33) grabs a loose ball in the first quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington (33) grabs a loose ball in the first quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers have struggled to hold a lead, leading to their unsurprising 0-4 start. The shooting woes of Robert Covington hasn’t helped the cause.

There’s always talk about how the Philadelphia 76ers scooped up a gem in Robert Covington. Covington’s physical stature alone was enough to take a flier on him. Standing at a long 6’9, Covington had the potential to be a surprise wing player that could, at the least, provide defensive help off the bench.

What made him even more special was his ability to hit the outside shots, and willingness to crash the board, an often overlooked aspect as a wing player. Covington’s glorious breakout story starts just after his stint with the Houston Rockets. Covington played just 7 games for the Rockets in 2013-14, playing the majority of his season in the NBA D-League for the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Covington’s 22.5 points per game and 9.1 rebounding average was enough to earn him NBA D-League All-Star honors and D-League Rookie of the Year. The eyes on Covington began to multiply with every long ball gently falling through net and every passing lane seemingly cut off.

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Covington’s ability was never in question. That carried over into his first full NBA season, as the Philadelphia 76ers swiftly picked up Covington, signing him to a partially guaranteed deal. Little did the league know that would to turn out to be one of the most valuable contracts around.

Covington led the team in scoring with a career-high 13.5 points per game, becoming the team’s most reliable offensive option in the first half of the season. His outside shooting was one of the key factors to his success, shooting 37.4% from the outside and making 2.4 threes per game.

This put Covington is an easy selection for starting small forward the next season, however the offense did not come as easily for the up and coming shooter. He started the season shooting 29.6% and 31.4% from the outside in November and December, respectively. His defensive presence was also less than impressive, as he and the team were both underwhelming.

This season has started in a similar fashion, this time with his offense and defense being polar opposites. Covington’s offense has been ghastly, shooting 5 for 26 from the field and 4 for 21 from the outside. He also failed to score against both Atlanta and Orlando.

Covington’s defense on the other hand has been refreshing compared to the rest of the team. Covington’s ability to lockdown opposing wing players has been key, but his offensive struggles have bogged down the Philadelphia 76ers.

Joel Embiid is clearly the team’s focal point on offense. His ability to score the ball from outside and in the post project him to be the future of the organization. His long awaited NBA debut may have diminished Covington’s role. We saw a different offensive role for Covington last season with Jahlil Okafor taking the helm on offense.

Covington was reduced to more of a pure catch and shoot option, rather than the main source of offense. That role is continuing to show through as Sergio RodriguezDario Saric-Embiid have taken over the first handful of games on the offensive side. Covington’s usage rate has dropped by around 8% from last season to this thus far. That could be a small reason, another could just be a plain shooting slump.

Here’s a video of Covington in the 2014-15 season. First, watch the point of release of the ball. Next, watch the video again, this time pay attention to the fluid movement of his lower body before release.

I tried to align three similar shots from this season to the clip above. I found that much of Covington’s shooting stroke is the same as the 2014-15 season. There were some barely noticeable differences, however. His point of release is back and higher, giving the ball a different trajectory than his Sixers debut season’s shots. He also seems to rush the shot more, creating somewhat of a hitch in some of his shots.

He reverts back to his smooth stroke in the last shot of the clip below, but the slump took hold and the ball rimmed out.

Those slight differences could be the answer to Covington’s early struggles, but a lot of it has to be a mental factor. Shooting slumps are tough for a player to break through it. The only way to do so is to keep shooting, although it will hurt the team in the short-term.

Covington must keep taking the shots that he would’ve taken in 2014-15. The way the offense is run sets up Covington for open opportunities in the corner, and he can’t pass up on the opportunities.

It’s much like a hitter in baseball. He might have to go through those five strikeouts to get those two hits, but those hits will lead to weeks worth of good hitting. Covington’s shooter mentality must not waver in the face of this slump. It’s hard to be robotic in emotion when your team is 0-4 and you’ve scored a total of 16 points through 4 starts. But it’s life of a shooter. Cold spells will come throughout stretches of the season, but what makes a shooter consistent is his ability to adjust and find his groove again.

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The Philadelphia 76ers will be hoping for a resurrection in outside shooting from Covington. The small forward isn’t an expendable piece as of now, due to the roster’s structure, but one signing can change that. Covington may see a shorter leash, but it’s up to him to loosen it.