In Sunday night’s victory over New York, Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington made just a single field goal. It capped off a four-game stretch in which the versatile forward shot just 7-of-35 from the field, and 3-of-23 from beyond the arc.
Those offensive struggles considered, it’s difficult to argue that Covington has been the home run hit that Trail Blazers fans were expecting when they dealt him for Trevor Ariza in mid-November. But in keeping the tune of baseball terms, he’s at least batting 1-of-2, thanks to his defensive efforts. Covington is ruled out of tonight’s game with a concussion.
That in mind, finding ways to get his offense going ahead of Thursday’s game against his old Rockets feels as though he should be a focal point.
Which makes that lone field goal in the Sunday victory all the more poetic.
It marked the first time all night in which Covington didn’t settle for a catch-and-shoot three; instead, he took advantage of the Knicks’ show on Lillard on a pick-and-roll, stumbled out of the play with a drunk man’s dexterity, and upon realizing that Obi Toppin’s momentum was shifting towards Lillard, began his cut through the lane with a head of steam and finished with a crafty layup.
This isn’t to suggest or to even expect Covington to rely on his ability to put pressure on the rim more often. He’s had just one season in which he had a 3-point rate of under 60 percent … and that was at a time in which Tim Duncan was an All-Star. But it could be one of the tweaks that makes it easier to get what he really wants — wide-open 3-pointers.
Robert Covington has been a welcome sight for the Trail Blazers outside of one thing — his shooting. How can Portland help him generate easier looks?
The gravity of Damian Lillard is a gift that keeps on giving. But it can only take one so far, which Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless can certainly attest to. One needs to be able to both mix it up with his offensive attack and take advantage of the long closeouts, and drain enough 3-pointers to keep defenses fearful. Covington hasn’t quite established that.
On tape, Covington sometimes fires the long ball a bit prematurely, with defenders close enough to make it a low-volume shot. You often leave the possession thinking, “Really? That was the best look this team could get on this possession?”
Perhaps the most concerning stat of them all: over one-third of Covington’s attempts come against what NBA.com defines as “tight defense,” and he’s gone 10-of-38 against such coverage, with a 28.9 eFG% to show for it.
If rangy defenders are able to cover the ground needed to get from Lillard to Covington as they have at times this season, perhaps it could help Covington to try and use that slashing ability a bit more. His numbers have actually made drastic improvements over the last few seasons when he attacks the rim.
The other obvious remedy would be to cut more, if he isn’t fully confident in that dribble. He doesn’t cut a ton, and didn’t do it much in Houston. But, when he did, he found efficiency at 1.4 points per possession.
If Portland is trying to recreate some of that success that they had with Aminu and Harkless, this would be a place to start; they both were excellent cutters, and that gave them an extra avenue of offense when their shooting wrists betrayed them.
Covington’s spot-up frequency makes everything else miniscule, but he’s given much to like as a roll man, or when he’s crashing the glass or in transition after a turnover.
The point being, Covington is a man of many talents and traits. That’s part of the reason why, even despite the shooting woes, he’s been an overwhelming positive for this team (consider his +12.8 on-off swing).
Watching him masquerade as the center in those super small-ball, turnover-machine lineups with Jones Jr., Anthony, Trent Jr., and Lillard has been quite fun, as has seeing how contagious the smiles are on with him on the floor during the breaks of action. The last step in the process is for him to “3” in “3-and-D,” and upon doing so, the Portland Trail Blazers can unlock a whole new level on the offensive side of the ball.