Robert Covington Shining as Two-Way Force For Small-Ball Rockets

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The term 3-and-D has become a bit of a crutch in 2020, used to describe most any wing who isn't a primary offensive option. But it truly is rare to find a player proficient on both ends. The top defenders are often more middling than marksmen from three. Elite floor spacers are usually limited in their coverage abilities. Robert Covington checks both boxes with relative ease. 

Houston's forward has shined in his first five playoff eight with the Rockets, continuing his strong play since being dealt from Minnesota in February. Covington is averaging 12.4 points per game in 2020 postseason on 51 percent from three. He's averaging 2.6 steals and 1.5 blocks. On a team with two MVPs, Covington is at times Houston's most impactful player. Daryl Morey's midseason acquisition looks smarter by the game. 

Covington scored just six points in the Rockets' Game 1 blowout of the Lakers on Friday, though he was certainly among the most impactful players on the floor. Covington wreaked havoc in passing lanes with four steals, and he added a block of JaVale McGee from the weak-side. The Tennessee State product is first in steals and fifth in blocks in the playoffs. He's Houston's leading rim protector. The Rockets' small-ball experiment doesn't work without Covington's versatility

"[Morey] does a good job of looking at the analytics and knowing that our little guys can guard bigs. So why not do it?," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said after Game 1. "Getting Covington was the key. We know we have a very unique team. We can compete."

Covington's defense prowess was expected when he came to Houston. His offensive ability has come as a relative surprise. Covington scored 21 points in a Game 7 win over Oklahoma City, and he's hit 18 of his last 31 threes. Perhaps his current hot streak is a bit unsustainable. Covington struggled mightily from three before the postseason, and his shot has ebbed and flowed as a Rocket. But Covington appears increasingly adept from three with Houston. He's showing little concern pulling the trigger from beyond the arc, and he's limiting ill-fated forays near the foul line. Hesitation is the greatest sin in Mike D'Antoni's offense. Houston's coach doesn't worry about that with Covington.

The Rockets viewed themselves on equal footing with the Lakers and Clippers throughout the regular season, and that belief was entrenched after a blowout in Game 1. This is a dynamic roster filled with flexible pieces, deployed by D'Antoni to hamper the NBA's leading Goliath. Houston's small-ball blueprint was enough to beat Oklahoma City. It was a driving force behind the win in Game 1. Covington is a linchpin of Houston's grand experiment, thriving as the Rockets look to pull off a second-round upset. They certainly look capable of doing so after Friday night.