Sixers training camp is quickly approaching, and it's felt like an eternity waiting for the season to start even with Football now getting underway and Baseball gearing up for the playoffs. We have had a memorable NBA off-season to give us that quick-fix to get us by, but we're now at the point where we can preview the season with camp starting on September 25th.
This season the Sixers will play 14 nationally televised games this year -not counting the 9 that will be played on NBA TV- and the players, coaches, their stories and of course, the back story of The Process will be put at the forefront of a more prominent stage for the broader audience who really haven't dug their heels into the team the last 4 years the way hardcore fans and local writers have.
You can tell right away that there will be somewhat of a learning curve or at least mistakes to correct. Noticeably this off-season, national networks have now turned their attention to the abundance of talent that has been quickly collected on the roster, and with it, comes predictions, hot-takes, and projected starting lineups, which of course is fine, we all like talking hoops! However, the projected lineups I've seen on cable network websites and written in columns couldn't be further from the truth.
Naturally the focus is on the talented players drafted by the team over the last 3-4 years, the Joel Embiids, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric's of the world and that isn't necessarily wrong, but those who have watched most of the games from the start of the Process Era up until now, the most anticipated season since the Allen Iverson era, know that having a lineup of Markelle Fultz, JJ Redick, Simmons as a Small Forward, Dario as a power forward and Embiid, would not only have fit problems, it would waste away a player who is the more natural and versatile fit on the roster. Robert Covington.
Wait, you wouldn't put Dario, the 14th pick in the draft in the starting lineup? Ben Simmons can't play small forward? Who the hell is Robert Covington and why would he start???
Before I answer the last question, first things first, Dario seems to be better suited coming off the bench. Yes, he did have a solid stretch the last two months of the season when everyone on the roster was dropping like flies due to injury, but his game is better suited taking advantage of opposing bench players and sometimes closing games. It's not always who starts games, most of the time it's who finishes them. He isn't necessarily the greatest athlete or the greatest defender despite his all-out effort and play-hard mentality and he also needs to prove that he can hit NBA 3's --where he shot 31% last year-- at least at an average clip in order to be a better fit next to Simmons who still has questions with his own jump-shot.
Second point, Simmons at the 3 would quite frankly be a misuse of him as a player. It's not that he can't play Small Forward, it's just that he would be better suited playing the Power Forward Position where he will almost always have a mismatch against other opposing Power Forwards due to his skillset. In turn that would provide the Sixers with the ability to do some fun, creative and downright unconventional things with the rest of the roster. Playing the Power Forward would allow Simmons to be closer to the basket where he can grab rebounds and push the ball as a 6'10 point guard in transition like we saw so many times at LSU.
Which brings us to Robert Covington, the man who signed as a free agent in the 2014-15 season after only playing 7 games as an undrafted Rookie for the Houston Rockets in 2013-14. Only known as a shooter at that time coming out of Tennessee State, Covington --affectionately known among fans as RoCo, Rock, or Bob Covington -- proved just that in his first season with the Sixers shooting 37% from three. Yes, his percentage has decreased every year, but as I've addressed before, you can chalk that up to the lack of talent the last few years, and with the infusion of talent coming in this year, he should have more space to normalize his percentages.
RoCo has always had quick hands, one time racking up a career high 8 steals against the Rockets in the 2015-16 season, but he was never the defender that he would turn himself in the next season to follow. Challenged by Head Coach Brett Brown to be a better defender before the start of the 2016-17 season, Covington became the teams best perimeter defender, guarding the opposing teams best player on most nights, and he turned himself into one of the best finds from the Sam Hinkie era. His defense was one of the reasons that Coach Brown kept him in the game in closing lineups despite his streaky shooting to start last season.
What Covington lacks in elite lateral quickness, he makes it up with his quick hands, instincts, good use of his 7'2 wingspan and defensive IQ. He put himself in great company with other great defenders like Draymond Green and Chris Paul last year, finishing 4th in the entire league in steals per game (1.9), and first in deflections (4.2) per NBA.com.
Most importantly Covington's size and length gives Brett Brown the flexibility to play him at small forward or small ball 4 in smaller lineups, where he still excels at rebounding the ball and spreading the floor. It's something Brown can make reference to if he really wants to get maniacal and try playing Simmons at the 5. Covington will almost certainly start at Small Forward because Brown won't take his best defender --outside of Joel Embiid-- off the floor. Covington's outlier improvement into a 3 and D player is one of the many reasons he is lined up to sign a contract extension this year and he will be worth every penny.
So if you're looking to watch the Sixers this year, you can expect the starting lineup to be an iteration of this.
PG. Markelle Fultz
SG. JJ Redick
SF. Robert Covington
PF. Ben Simmons
C. Joel Embiid.