With the Minnesota Timberwolves hiring new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas last week, a lot of the immediate chatter has been about Minnesota’s stretched out cap situation.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a star and deserves every bit of his max deal, but there is plenty of bad money decisions littered around him. Andrew Wiggins’ depressed on-court value relative to the $121 million he is owed has been well-documented, Jeff Teague hasn’t got close to living up to his $19 million price tag, and Gorgui Dieng’s been steadily regressing since he signed a big money, long-term deal back in 2017.
Among all the misery is Robert Covington. The 28-year-old is the gold standard for 3-and-D players and undoubtedly the best thing to come from the Tom Thibodeau era along with five playoff games.
Despite succumbing to a season-ending injury in late December, RoCo was a beacon of hope for the Wolves. He averaged 14.5 points, 5.7 boards, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks during his time in the Twin Cities, while connecting on 37.2 percent of his 6.7 3-point attempts per game.
More importantly for the defensively wretched squad, their defense was 7.3 points better per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. To further justify his brilliance on that end, Minnesota held a 107.2 defensive rating during his 22 appearances, a number that would have ranked them as the eighth best defense in the league (they finished 24th) had he stayed healthy.
Just in case you still had your doubts, he also finished as the top perimeter player in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus (9th overall) and maintained that in Bball Index’s defensive player impact plus/minus (9th overall).
When you parse through the statistics, it’s no wonder he was widely recognized as one of the Defensive Player of the Year front runners before he went down with nasty bone bruising of the knee.
If you need a gentle (and fun) reminder of the kind of wrecking ball he is on the grimy, energy-based end of the floor, here is a quick compilation of some of 2018-19 Glovington’s best work.
Even brimming with work rate, skill, flair, and passion on the hardwood, Covington may actually be more valuable off it. Over the next three years he is owed a bargain basement $36.3 million, an average annual salary of $12.1 million, per Basketball Reference.
Among other premier two-way forces in the league, there is little doubting RoCo has one of the most team-friendly deals around — a wrinkle of the organization that will have Rosas licking his lips.
Among the true 3-and-D players of the game, he is one of the best. We worked out the most valuable by sorting players in the top 50 in defensive real plus/minus (DRPM) who also shot at least 36 percent from behind the arc (minimum two attempts per game). Here is how Covington ranks among a short list of the qualified players.
- Robert Covington - +3.51 DRPM, 37.3 percent on 6.4 attempts.
- Myles Turner - +3.44 DRPM, 38.8 percent on 2.6 attempts.
- Paul George - +3.09 DRPM, 38.6 percent on 9.8 attempts.
- Marc Gasol - +2.98 DRPM, 36.3 percent on 3.5 attempts
- Al Horford - +2.65 DRPM, 36 percent on 3 attempts.
- Paul Millsap - +2.65 DRPM, 36.5 percent on 2.3 attempts
- Royce O’Neale - +2.29 DRPM, 38.6 percent on 2.1 attempts
- Pascal Siakam - +2.23 DRPM, 36.9 percent on 2.7 attempts.
- Dewayne Dedmon - +1.99 DRPM, 38.2 percent on 3.4 attempts.
- Danny Green - +1.96 DRPM, 45.5 percent on 5.4 attempts.
- PJ Tucker - +1.94 DRPM, 37.7 percent on 4.7 attempts.
Of that list Turner, O’Neale, Siakam, Dedmon, Green, and Tucker were the six players who got paid less than Covington last season. Aside from Turner (whose due to get a mammoth pay rise next season as his 4-year, $72 million extension kicks in) and Siakam, Covington is a much better player than the guys who earn less than him.
As you can see, there is very few players who can match Covington in these areas. Obviously, DRPM is far from the be all and end all, especially since all defensive metrics are flawed in some way, shape, or form.
These basic numbers also don’t take into account the rest of the impact that one makes on offense. For example, there is no doubting Paul George or Pascal Siakam provide a ton more than just 3-point shooting and a defensive presence — they are well-rounded offensive stars.
That’s not to discount how vital this two-way level of play is. In a game that is highly dependent on teams being proficient from long-range, players who can shoot a high-volume and high percentage as well as break a game open defensively are diamonds. Covington is certainly that.
If Covington can come back to Minnesota healthy and in the same form he showed last year, he will undoubtedly go back to being one of the best value players in the league. And with a cap sheet that is largely a disaster, the front office will be salivating at that thought.