IT WAS A SUNDAY afternoon in San Antonio a few weeks ago, and Sixers coach Brett Brown had seen the game of Robert Covington for all of one practice. The team had just signed the 6-9 swingman from the NBA Development League and, like so many before him, Covington was about to be thrown into the fire that is the NBA.
As Covington launched jumpers that Sunday, Brown watched intently. Covington had a skill that was very scarce on the team and the coach liked what he saw. Covington's footwork when getting ready to catch the ball was nearly perfect. His release was flawless and the result was often a good one. With a team so sorely lacking a legitimate outside threat, no doubt Brown was tickled watching his new acquisition.
There were flashes early in Covington's arrival, like the 14 points he registered in as many minutes in helping the team come back from a large deficit in an eventual loss to the New York Knicks. Since then, Covington has shown more and more and the confidence his coach now has in him has been evident by his averaging nearly 30 minutes a game over the last three. The Tennessee State product has responded by posting career highs in all three games, going for 17, 21 and 25. Not coincidentally, the Sixers have picked up a pair of victories.
Covington has made 22 of his 40 shots during the three-game span, including 9-for-17 from three-point range. But it hasn't been all just about his outside skills. He has shown a willingness to take the ball to the basket and has been a successful finisher once there.
"He can do more than just shoot, because what he's done, and this is always the evolution of shooters, is taking that feared weapon and making a catch-and-go out of it," said Brown. "Because obvious scouting reports say don't let him catch-and-shoot or you have to be pretty close. They learn how to deal with that close space and drive stuff and invite fouls and not be afraid of contact. That's the thing that has surprised me, where he's got a little bit of that, too.
"His release point has surprised me, where it's higher than I thought. He fades a little bit so he can get his shot off on players, where you think they are close enough to bother him and he can still get it off. He's more of a scorer than just a shooter."
On a team whose two best scorers – Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten – prefer to get their points by penetrating, having a shooter like Covington spreads defenses and makes it easier for those two to score.
"I help out a lot," said Covington, who turns 24 Sunday. "It [shooting] creates open lanes for guys like Mike and Tony to drive and kick and create open lobs for Nerlens [Noel]. It not only benefits me but it benefits the team as well. It helps us flow better on the court.
"Guys are finding me as well. It took a little bit of time, but guys have helped me along the way, the coaches have helped me along the way, and I've benefited from it.
"We have a great group of guys that is working. Each and every day we do something different, and we get better each and every day."
His coach hopes Covington can get better in another aspect of the sport as well.
"My challenge always to him is to take the incredible gift that he's got and now I'm going to help him guard and I'm going to scrutinize and pay attention," said Brown. "We know you can do that [shoot]. But now can you parlay the other side of the ball and contribute and grow there, too?
"Right now, I just kind of zone in on how can I help him there. He needs to help himself there because he's impressed and improved and showed me more than I could have imagined. Really, offensively, he's way better than I thought. So now I'm going to help him to get the other side right."
Tony Wroten, who returned to practice Monday after missing five games with a knee sprain, is doubtful for tonight's game in Atlanta after soreness arose following practice. Guard Alexey Shved, who has been out since Dec. 1 with a hip-flexor injury, is listed as questionable.