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Rockets restart player previews: Robert Covington

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Daryl Morey got his prize.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Covington

History: Covington originally came to the Houston Rockets as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2013, when he signed a multi-year deal. He played primarily in the G-League (then known as the D-League), appearing in just seven NBA games on the season. Houston GM Daryl Morey then made one of the few big mistakes he’s had since taking control of Houston’s front office, and he waived Covington outright right before the start of the 2014-2015 season.

Convington then signed a multi-year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers and immediately came into his own, averaging 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.6 steals in his first season with the club, and he also began slowly building his reputation as one the league’s better wing defenders. The Sixers resigned him in 2017, as his three-and-D skills developed into the premier category (he averaged 37 percent from deep and posted a +1.4 defensive box plus-minus that season), before trading him the following year to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Jimmy Butler deal.

Covington continued to shine in Minnesota and became Daryl Morey’s white whale — the one that got away — and was often tied to the Rockets anytime a trade rumor came up. Well, Morey finally got his man back, but boy did it ever cost a lot.

Houston re-acquired Covington in February of this year in a four-team deal with the Wolves, Atlanta Hawks, and Denver Nuggets. The Rockets gave up nightly double-double machine Clint Capela along with aging veteran Nene, H-town favorite Gerald Green, and a first-round pick.

The Rockets officially went all-in on small ball, and Covington immediately stepped in to help — probably even better than expected — before playing just 14 games before the COVID-19 shutdown.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Outlook: Covington has been an absolute stud defensively in that limited sample size for the Rockets. Stepping in as technically a power forward in Houston’s system, Covington was averaging 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, which would both be career highs if they were extrapolated over a whole season. The blocks are what is really impressive.

Covington’s always been a good shot blocker. He’s averaged around a block or more per game over the last several seasons — a good mark for a guy playing mostly at the three — but the blocks have come in bunches since his arrival in H-town. In fact, the last Rockets player to average at least 2.5 block per game was Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1998-1999 season.

Covington is currently a top-20 player in blocks for the entire year (18th), but his Rockets-only numbers would technically put him second overall. It’s been really impressive.

He’s also wreaked havoc to the tune of over a steal per game, and the Rockets will be turning him loose again in the bubble to demoralize opponents with some truly stifling and impactful defensively play. Seriously, spend a few minutes watching his play on the defensive end.

Roco has also perfected the offensive side of three-and-D, averaging 36 percent shooting from beyond the arc with the Rockets, which is right in line with his career average, which means this is essentially what we can expect from Covington going forward.

Houston has been searching for a Trevor Ariza replacement ever since they let their famous glue guy walk following the 2017-2018 season, and at least so far, it appears they may have finally found him.

Convington brings many of the same skills offensively as Ariza, while being slightly more dynamic defensively and better with the ball in his hand.

So Daryl Morey got finally got his man. He got back the one that got away and replaced one of the key components of Houston’s 65-win team. Let’s hope that Covington ends up being worth giving up one of the league’s top young centers to get back a guy you had on the roster already but released just a few seasons ago. So far, through 14 games, he has. The bubble will tell the rest of the tale for this season.