Recap: Robert Covington was acquired by the Rockets in a three-team trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks received Clint Capela in exchange for a first-round pick that went to the Wolves. Covington’s presence in the lineup allowed the Rockets to shift to their small-ball philosophy and play a unique style that caught the league by surprise.
Covington started games in the frontcourt next to P.J. Tucker to form the smallest frontcourt in the league, but one that could space the floor and shoot a high volume of threes. Covington went from shooting 6.5 threes per game in Minnesota to 7.6 in Houston.
Right out of the gate, Covington proved his value in Houston, knocking down four threes and grabbing eight rebounds in his Rockets debut, a win on the road against the Lakers.
In the playoffs, RoCo started off slow in the Thunder series, but ended up being one of the more valuable Rockets. The series ended with a team-high 21-point, 10-rebound effort from Covington that allowed the Rockets to advance to play the Lakers.
Against the Lakers, Covington had less success. His three-point volume decreased as he pointed his focus towards defending much larger Lakers, with not much success. Believe it or not, defending Anthony Davis is not easy no matter who you are.
Covington’s playoff averages ended with 11.2 points per game, five rebounds per game and 2.5 steals per game.
2021 Outlook: Covington will make just over $12 million in his age-30 season and is under team control until 2022. That’s what made him such an attractive trade candidate at the last trade deadline, and it is what makes him enticing candidate this offseason. I’m not saying the Rockets would trade Covington, but if the team wanted to make a blockbuster upgrade, Covington would almost certainly have to be included.
Covington was a huge cog in the small-ball machine that Mike D’Antoni created, so it will be interesting to see how the Rockets operate in a non-MDA system. Granted, that system will almost certainly continue to have a large three-point component, which plays into RoCo’s favor. I think the chances of Covington getting dealt are under 5%. When he’s at his best, Covington can be the third best player on the team behind Harden and Westbrook. He’s a strong defender (10th in steals per game) and three-point specialist (9th in 3PA per game). His game complements Harden and Westbrook in any system.
I think his role on the team will likely change depending on whether the team wants to give small-ball another go. I think what hurt Covington in the Lakers series was that he was constantly needing to exert a lot of energy on the defensive end guarding Anthony Davis that it took away from his ability to handle his offensive duties. Handing the responsibility off to P.J. Tucker might not work either given he isn’t getting younger (turning 36 in May) and that it still landed the Rockets on the couch after Round 2.
If the team opts to land some size next to Covington, it could affect their spacing, but it will allow Covington to become more of a true wing again like he was in Philadelphia and Minnesota. There needs to be some type of balance between that more traditional wing and that non-traditional center. I think if that balance is found, Covington could enjoy the best season of his career in 2021.