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Trail Blazers 2021-22 Season Preview: Robert Covington

Our 2021-22 preview continues with one of the quiet heroes of Portland’s roster last season.

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The countdown is on to the start of the 2021-22 NBA regular season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Blazer’s Edge will be running our season preview from now until the Blazers tip off the year against the Sacramento Kings next Wednesday. Today we talk about the power forward who makes Portland’s theoretical commitment to defense more of a reality: Robert Covington.

Robert Covington 2020-21 Stats

AGE: 30 EXPERIENCE: 8 Seasons

CONTRACT: $13.0 million in 2021-22, expires at end of season

2020-21 STATS

8.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks in 32.0 minutes per game over 70 appearances

40.1% field goal percentage, 37.9% three-point percentage, 80.6% free throw percentage with 0.9 foul shots per game

The Role

The Blazers acquired Covington at the beginning of last season to hold down a power forward spot that had been insecure since the departure of Al-Farouq Aminu in 2019. They already had the archetype: lock-down defender who could hit a three off of the bail-out pass when the starting guards got in trouble. Covington’s ability sliders sat in a different spot than Aminu’s. He was more help defender than straight-up stopper, but his 38% three-point clip was also more reliable. In the end, it balanced out. Covington did everything the Blazers needed him to do in a nice 2020-21 season.

Areas for Improvement

Covington’s improvement doesn’t hinge on Covington himself, but on the team around him. It’s hard being one of the league’s best help defenders when teammates don’t leave good opportunities to help.

In the preseason, Portland’s defensive deficiencies have come in three flavors:

  • Not closing out at the three-point arc
  • Not stopping direct drives to the rim
  • Not making the second rotation once the first one has activated

Covington’s skills are wasted in all three scenarios. Unless he’s the one closing at the arc (and he does), there’s no way he can cover enough territory to stop a shooter on the other side of the floor. When teammates don’t inhibit rim drives and dives, the score happens too fast for Covington’s help to matter.

In normal circumstances, Covington is often the first player to rotate for the initial defensive stop. The second rotation—the one not being read or made—falls to his teammates. Covington goes to help; nobody moves to help him.

If the Blazers put Covington in a lineup with other committed defenders willing to move their feet, he’s going to look great. If they continue to watch opposing plays instead of stopping them, Covington isn’t enough of a dominant individual defender to make a difference.

Besides moving on “D”, all Covington needs to do is hit threes at a reasonably high rate and he should be good. If he starts sneaking below the 36% mark, the Blazers will face the same issue they had with Aminu: helping the defense marginally but breaking the offense by allowing opponents to double-team guards using his man. So far, that hasn’t been a problem. We’ll see what develops in Head Coach Chauncey Billups’ new system.

Final Thoughts

Robert Covington is one of the best players the Blazers could have, as long as they’re cohesive and talented enough to make a run with him playing a complementary role. He’s a great addition if the Blazers are where they say they are. Portland’s actual play hasn’t supported that thesis, though. If they’re not tight around Covington, he’s not going to make that much of a difference by himself. In that case, he’s a prime candidate for a mid-season trade with his expiring contract going towards cap savings and/or future assets.