For those of you who are of a certain age and baseball fans, you will recognize the headline as a reference to a quote by Ralph Kiner about the outfielder Garry Maddox.
It’s appropriate here because Robert Covington has entirely changed the Wolves defense in a way I did not think was possible for a single player. The Wolves, mired in the defensive basement seemingly forever, are now 16th in the league in defensive rating for the season, and second since RoCo was acquired.
And it’s almost all him, which is both amazing and scary at the same time. Via NBA Wowy, the Wolves defensive rating is 95.4 when he’s on the court, 113.1 when he’s off. Some of this is likely a bit of variance: Opponents are shooting 30 percent from three when he’s on the floor vs. 40 percent when he’s off, which, yes he’s terrific but some of that is just small sample size fortune.
But the improvement is across the board—the Wolves are forcing more turnovers, allowing a lower field goal percentage, and doing better on the defensive glass. Covington has a salutary effect in all of these areas, and it’s worth pointing out especially the defensive rebounding, which was a massive Achilles heel for this squad early in the season.
From the start of the season until the trade, the Wolves were dead last in defensive rebound percentage; they were getting killed on the glass. Since the trade they are 11th, a remarkable turnaround. With Covington on the floor they grab over 77 percent of available defensive boards, without him out there it’s 70 percent. (It’s worth noting that Dario Saric also appears to help the defensive rebounding—the Wolves grab an incredible 84 percent of available defensive boards when he’s on the floor. Amazing.)
One of the cool things about it all is that his stuff works even better with the bench unit. The Covington-Tyus Jones-Derrick Rose-Dario Saric-Gorgui Dieng lineup has a defensive rating of 85.6 and an offensive rating of, wait for it, 124. That’s a net rating of 38.4. It’s only 55 minutes and certainly exaggerated, but yeah. In those 55 minutes, the Wolves have outscored opponents 129-89.
To put it simply: Robert Covington is the best defensive wing player in the NBA.
Elsewhere, Zach Lowe features another aspect of Wolves improvement in his “10 Things” today: Dario Saric and his impact on the offensive glass.
In 77 minutes with Saric and Karl-Anthony Towns sharing the floor, Minnesota has inhaled 36 percent of its own misses -- a top-5-percentile figure among 1,500-plus duos that have logged at least 50 minutes, per NBA.com. (Can we please see a little more of the Saric-Towns duo, Thibs?)
Indeed, more of that duo would be welcome. If you swap out Dieng for Towns in that lineup referenced above, the results are even more amazing, mostly on defense, though it’s only an 18 minute sample.
Let’s see, what else can we talk about? How about the Western Conference, where as of this writing the Houston Rockets (!) are in 14th place...with a 9-11 record. We’ve seen beastly Western Conferences before, but the depth so far this season might be unprecedented. The Clippers (also !) are at the top with a 15-6 record, but a bad week could drop them out of the top four. Presumably a few teams will break away at either end of the spectrum, but what fun if this massive scrum continues throughout the season.
Next up for the Wolves are the Boston Celtics tomorrow night at Target Center. That’s December 1st, so we can close the books on one of the more eventful and interesting months in Wolves history.