BROOKLYN - At the beginning of November, Robert Covington was the first overall selection in the NBA D-League draft, getting ready for a season with the Grand Rapids Drive as the league's reigning Rookie of the Year winner. His fate was changed only 2 weeks later when the Sixers signed the Tennessee State product to a 4-year deal.
After the Sixers' 88-70 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on last night, Covington is playing like a 10-year veteran, not someone who just finished up his 20th career game in the NBA. He's bringing a severely lacking three-point shooting element to the team, now shooting 52.1 percent from deep for the season (13 games) on 48 attempts.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown said before the game he was separating the frequent frontcourt tandem of Nerlens Noel and Henry Sims in the name of better floor spacing.
"I feel like we have to split up Henry and Nerlens," Brown said. "I think I should like at them as the 'five' men at that 'five' spot. We've been starting them together. We're down a big and I just don't really feel comfortable just rolling out really what ends up being our two 'five' men."
Despite the loss, the move proved to be a wise decision. With the newly christened "Big Shot Bob" inserted into the team's front court, the Sixers' offense had its lone threat, as he sunk his first four attempts from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 20 points (6-for-10 on three-point shots).
"Covington's given us something. He's really coming along," said Brown, who was clearly happy with Covington's shooting amid another wise poor offensive effort. "Michael has a new toy, trying to learn how to find him. They got a little thing going on."
Covington said that his new spot in the starting lineup didn't faze him and that he was not nervous over his ever-expanded role with the Sixers.
"I was just happy to be starting the game. It's no different than me coming in off the bench," Covington said.
"Coach just put me in the lineup to do what I do and be out there to help guys get better. We flowed as a team just as if I was coming off the bench."
Covington succeeded in his new sharpshooting role, but frontcourt partner Noel struggled mightily, going 0-for-8 from the field with five turnovers and four fouls. Nets center and FIBA Basketball World Champion Mason Plumlee thrived despite Noel's presence in the paint, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while looking as if he was back in his Duke days with the beat-down he was giving.
"He struggled. He has been playing well," Brown said of Noel's performance. "You can see him continuing to grow. Tonight wasn't one at all. You'd like to forget that game pretty quickly."
Noel left the game early in the third quarter with a callus on his left foot, but did return. Brown called the injury "nothing serious."
In Brown's view, Noel contributed to a teamwide poor offensive performance.
"We just couldn't score. They intimidated us at the rim," he said. "Going 9-for-33 in the paint is hard to do.
"I give Plumlee, KG credit. Some of it is just learning to control that environment with our young guys better. Twenty-three turnovers is never going to help. Going 9-for-33 in the paint's never going to help. We have no margin for error."
The Sixers will need to persevere through a lack of rest with a game tonight against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies.
D-Leaguer and former Saint Joseph's Hawk Ronald Roberts was signed yesterday afternoon to fill a spot opned with the trade of Brandon Davies.
Roberts was caught off-guard with the announcement, as he had planned to play in a home game for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers' D-League affiliate last night.
"I called my mom and dad. They were going to come to my game in Delaware, but it's now an easier commute since I'm closer from over here," he said.Despite not getting any playing time against the Nets, Roberts remains hopeful he can carve out a niche on the team's roster, saying that he is "just trying to bring energy," and that his main focus is on grabbing rebounds, a needed improvement for a team that was 18th in defensive rebounding rate going into the matchup with the Nets.
Brown was pleased with Roberts' arrival and talked of his approval of having the squad's D-League affiliate so close by.
"It highlights how good it is to have NBDL program right in your backyard," Brown said, "because we can throw him in a car and, bam, and he's down here and he's good to go for ."