Robert Covington never had much of a chance to be named All-Defense this season. But his barely-there finish in the voting nonetheless exposes just how far behind the rest of the league the Trail Blazers – despite the clear impact of Covington's tireless, disruptive efforts – remain in terms of defensive talent.
Covington garnered a just single vote for Second Team All-Defense during his debut campaign in Portland, the league revealed on Monday. Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo were the First-Team forwards, while Bam Adebayo and Kawhi earned Second-Team slots.
Four other players also received a solitary point in the voting as forwards: Jae Crowder, Andrew Wiggins, Daniel Theis and Christian Wood. Donovan Mitchell, Russell Westbrook and Nerlens Noel were the other players awarded a single Second-Team vote.
No one thought Covington's presence alone would be enough to vault Portland into the league's top third on defense when the Blazers traded a pair of first-round picks for him in early December. There isn't a non-big in basketball capable of lifting otherwise pedestrian defensive talent to those heights, let alone one with such clear individual deficiencies.
Covington's supreme influence as a help defender needs no further explanation here. His activity, instincts and hands occupying the backline, digging down one pass away and randomly roaming off non-threatening assignments provided Portland some of the only good defense it played all season. He's an elite off-ball defender.
But everything we wrote about Covington's All-Defense resumé after the regular season played out on the floor against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. He couldn't contain the ball on the perimeter, was routinely overpowered when forced to cover Nikola Jokic and wasn't airtight in terms of maintaining full intensity and staying scheme sound.
There will always be a relatively low ceiling on the overall effect of a wing defender with limited positional versatility who doesn't protect the rim. Covington would be helped, of course, if he was surrounded by a team of defenders who even slightly mitigated his weaknesses.
How many more steals or deflections could he get if Portland had enough collective size to pressure the ball and tighten the ground he was tasked with covering on the weak side? Maybe Covington would be more viable checking ball handlers and star wings if the Blazers' marriage of scheme and personnel allowed them to hedge and recover in pick-and-roll without the offense getting whatever it wants. It's no demerit that he couldn't check Jokic. Jutting more like-sized, athletic defenders next to him in downsized units would no doubt make Covington a more effective nominal center.
The good news is that Covington, barring a major roster shakeup, isn't going anywhere, and a new coach is coming in next season. But if Covington makes All-Defense for the second time in his career going forward, it'll be in part because that major personnel overhaul actually came to pass in Portland – or he's playing elsewhere.