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By MIKE SANDROLINI
PROVISO | Four games remain before the curtain closes on the Philadelphia 76ers season, which includes when the Chicago Bulls visit the Sixers Thursday night, April 6.
The 2016-17 campaign has been challenging for Sixers guard-forward Robert Covington, a Bellwood native and Proviso West product who’s in his fourth year with the team. He struggled with his outside shot early this year, and at one point, was shooting just 41 percent from the free-throw line, around 35 percent from the floor and 28.7 percent from three-point land.
Philadelphia fans can be tough on their own, regardless of the sport, and Covington was getting his share of boos from Philly fans. Regarding the boo-birds, Covington told the Philadelphia Inquirer in early January, “It’s not making me frustrated. It’s not causing me to second-guess myself.”
Injuries also have been a constant burden for Covington most of the season. Just as he got over one injury, he seemingly ended up facing another. He suffered a left knee sprain in early December, then a right hand contusion in early February, and then fell hard in mid-February going for a loose ball out of bounds, hitting his head on a chair.
Most recently, a sore right knee has kept Covington out of the lineup, and the team announced last Friday that he would be shut down for the rest of the season after an MRI revealed a slight meniscus tear. Prior to this injury, Covington had been playing his best basketball of the year. He scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds in the Sixers’ 106-101 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on March 28. During a recent 16-game stretch, Covington averaged just over 17 points, nearly eight rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. He also was shooting 41.1 percent from the three-point arc and 87.4 percent from the line.
While his offensive numbers have fluctuated this season, defense has been a constant for Covington. He’s routinely assigned to cover the opponent’s top perimeter player. He averages nearly three steals over 48 minutes played, putting him fifth among NBA players who’ve played at least 50 games this season.
A recent story on si.com (the Sports Illustrated website) outlined how Covington became a thorn in the side to opposing offenses through repetition, studying game video and plain, old hard work.
“I know I’m (going to) guard different people throughout the game, so you gotta know whoever’s in front of you,” Covington told si.com. “You can’t sit up there and guess on things.”
Covington remains active in his native Proviso Township. Last summer, he hosted the inaugural Robert Covington Basketball Camp at Proviso West. The two-day camp was free to the 100 middle- and high-school boys and girls in the community. Covington’s mother, Teresa Bryant, helped run and organize the event. His younger brother, Deveon Bryant, was one of the Proviso West’s boys basketball team’s top players during the recently concluded season.
Covington and his 76er teammates played the Chicago Bulls twice at the United Center this season. After arriving in Chicago the Saturday prior to their Sunday, Jan. 29 contest vs. the Bulls, Covington attended his brother’s game against Hinsdale Central. Interestingly, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg’s son, Jack, played for Hinsdale Central.
“He (Deveon) did a good job, but they weren’t able to get the win,” Covington told the Sixers NBA.com website. “I’m really excited for him.”
The 6-9 Covington is one of three players on the Sixers roster from the Chicago area. Teammate Jahlil Okafor was one of the top prep players in the nation at Whitney Young, while Richaun Holmes is from Lockport.
Despite possessing young talent such as Covington, Okafor, leading scorer Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, the Sixers have struggled in recent years. This season, they’re in fourth place out of five teams in the NBA’s Atlantic Division. The Sixers own the fifth worst record in the league, and because of a trade with the Sacramento Kings—whose record is almost identical to the Sixers heading down the stretch—the Sixers may end up having two of the top four draft picks in this year’s NBA Draft.
Covington, who prior to his knee injury was averaging 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, may be on the trading block during the off-season. In fact, one trade rumor last month—reported by the SB Nation Liberty Ballers website—had Covington going to the Indiana Pacers with either Okafor or Nerlens Noel and two first-round picks for Pacers star Paul George.
Covington becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season, and head coach Brett Brown expects Covington will cash in.
“He will be rewarded,” Brown said.
One writer, Christopher Kline, with thesixersense.com, advocated that the Sixers should keep Covington as they continue to rebuild. Covington’s current contract is one that’s inviting to other teams because it’s considered a bargain—and it’s one that had minimal impact on the salary cap. Plus, his stock has increased now that he’s developed into a versatile, two-way player and an elite defender.