Robert Covington and TJ McConnell: Two undrafted players who made it through the Process era are now contributors to a team on the rise.
The reluctance to use cap space to sign veterans was one of the hallmark hot topics and criticisms of the Sam Hinkie era. "It could show all the young guys how to be a professional" "It could establish a better culture" "It could make the product on the court more respectable", it was a criticism I have always disagreed with emphatically, why waste cap space on vets, when you can take fliers on young guys and maximize your chances at having a top pick in the NBA draft?
If you're going to have a plan, you should fully commit to it, not half-ass it just to appease the media, look better in the public eye or try to squeeze out a few more pointless wins in what is going to be a losing season anyway. While critics couldn't wait to blame the team for lack of vets at every turn, no one ever talked about one of the benefits of Hinkie constantly taking fliers on young players like the Tony Wroten's, the JaKarr Sampson's and the Henry Sims of the world. Maybe, just maybe, with all the court time they got --court time people thought they didn't deserve-- some players would eventually take unexpected leaps in their games to become solid or good NBA players down the line, say like, Robert Covington and Timothy John McConnell.
There are a lot of reasons why Hinkie truthers can point to the entire four years as a plan that has worked, still having enough cap space for a max player this summer, watching two promising franchise players while another one is currently on ice because of injury...(yeah sounds about right), and still having future lottery picks down the road because of Hinkie crafted trades. One that hardly gets brought up, however, is the development of RoCo and TJ.
Covington is lined up to have a big payday after November 15th, when both he and the team can officially renegotiate and extend his contract after spending his first three seasons with the team on a minimum deal worth $3.02 million dollars. From the '14-'15 season until now Covington has developed into one of the best wing defenders in the league, and the leap he took last year on that end was unparalleled for a minimum deal type of player. He led the league in deflections last year because of his quick steel-trap hands, and led all small forwards in Defensive Real-Plus Minus by a mile, guarding the team's best player most of the time.
Couple that with his ability to shoot --ignore the flukey start to last season--, he has become the perfect 3-and-D wing player that is coveted by most teams trying to adapt to the modern NBA. With more talent on the roster this year, he is now in the perfect role and has overachieved. RoCo has shot 49.2% from three on seven attempts per game so far this year, and while it's unlikely that percentage holds up, I expect him to shoot somewhere in the low forties, especially when he is getting looks like this.
The defense is going to have the majority of its attention focused on a 7'2 Monstar and a 6'10 point god who can get anywhere on the floor.
Oh yeah, now that the team has J.J Redick is one of the best 3 point shooters in NBA history, the gravity he commands will bend the opposing defense even more. Covington is going to have a field day with all the open looks he is going to get as a byproduct.
He has come a long way from playing on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G-league, now he has turned himself into a player that can start on most teams in the NBA. So far he hasn't had the start on defense that he had last year but he's still pretty good, and as mentioned before, those hands can get pesky if you're loose with the ball.
To let Covington develop while on a minimum deal has become one of the best things to happen over the last four years, along with one TJ McConnell.
The undrafted point guard out of Arizona first joined the team in the 2015-16 season when the team only won 10 games. At that time he was only seen as a fringe NBA player, with all the cliches, "scrappy", and a "bring the lunch pail to work" kind of guy. He started the 2016-17 season on the bench but fought his way to starting 51 out of the 81 games because of his ability to control the pace and make sure the team is running the proper offensive sets. Last year he was 5th in Assist-to-turnover ratio with 3.36, and he also turned into a good defender, especially at the point of attack. In the process, McConnell solidified himself as a good backup point guard in the NBA.
With Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless coming back from injury and the arrival of Markelle Fultz, it seemed like TJ was going to be buried on the bench once again heading into this year's training camp. As it turns out, head coach Brett Brown can't keep TJ off the floor, he has made a visible impact in every game this year again coming off the bench and more importantly has started to close games.
He has upped his field goal percentage to 51%, and while it's a small sample size has shot 5/9 from three so far this season. He loves to probe under the basket until the last possible second to find the open guy, he has a nice 12-15 foot jumper, and he has taken his competitive nature to a whole new level. All the talk of not being able to fit next to Ben Simmons because he can't shoot threes has not been as big of a deal as we made it out to be. At least so far. If you have high IQ basketball players on the floor they'll find a way to make it work.
*By the way, look at who made the shot*
TJ has been keen on making sure the ball is hopping around the perimeter; this has been the best I've seen Sixers move the ball in the last four years.
By the way, he still has his signature "hang around in the backcourt and steal the ball" move, I documented how much he did that last season.
When the team Sixer'd away the game against the Houston Rockets at Wells Fargo Center on October 25th, --on my birthday no less, thanks, guys-- there were questions as to why Brett Brown didn't have McConnell on the floor during the last play of the game when the Rockets made the game-winning three. Over the last three games against the Mavericks, Pistons, and Hawks, McConnell has been in the closing lineups. He has become an important rotation player on a team that's on the rise, his contract is also a bargain with a team option for the 2018-19 season valued at $1.6 Million dollars, a contract that was offered by Sam Hinkie, by the way.
But it was sooooo important to sign veteran players during all those years of losing right? Having a revolving door of D-league players --uh, I guess G-league-- wasn't the most productive idea right? We needed to put a respectable product on the floor to squeeze out those 2 extra meaningless wins per season!
Sarcasm aside, while the chances of any of the 10-day contracts, and minimum deal players sticking on a roster were slim to none, the fact is, you never know. This Sports Illustrated article, detailing the Astro's MLB version of The Process, summed it up perfectly. In the midst of a long-term plan, some surprising turns can pop up.
A 6'9 wing player with a 7'2 wingspan, who was only known as a shooter coming out of college, could develop into that valuable 5th starter on a possible contender down the line, or that 6'2 "scrappy" point guard can work his ass off and prove himself to be a good rotational player in the NBA, to the point where the best player on the planet wanted to trade for him at the deadline last season. Signing vets would not have provided them with the court time needed to develop into what they are now.
The Process allowed enough time --four years to be exact-- for some unexpected things to happen. Now as we watch this team grow with its core of three high lottery picks --yes Markelle Fultz will still be good, guys-- the players filling out the rest of the roster can help turn this team into what Hinkie, and many who were all in on his rebuild, envisioned.