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Trade Target Breakdown: Robert Covington

While Covington is an excellent 3-and-D player, the Wolves will ask for a lot to move him.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

As we approach next month’s NBA Trade deadline, I’ll be doing a series of posts examining players who the Clippers could be pursuing in trade negotiations. I’ll cover a wide range of potential targets, including players the Clippers have been linked to in rumors, players who I think would make intriguing targets, and players who I have been asked about by readers. Haven’t seen a breakdown for a player you think the Clippers should pursue? Ask me to add him to the list!

Player Name: Robert Covington

Position: SF/PF

Height: 6’7”

Age: 29

Stats: Playing 29.0 minutes per game in 41 appearances this season, averaging 12.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 43.5% from the field and 35.4% from deep.

Contract: Owed $11.3M this season, with two additional years at $12.1M and $13M.

Impact on Clippers: Moderate-High

Robert Covington is good. In fact, he’s about as good of a guy in the archetypal 3-and-D role as you’ll find in the NBA. While he missed significant time during the 2018-19 season, he was an All-Defensive first teamer in the 2017-18 season before being the centerpiece of the Philadelphia 76ers package sent to Minnesota in exchange for Jimmy Butler. Covington’s teams have been better with him on the floor than off of it every season in his career. He has posted a positive VORP and Box +/- every season of his career. During his last full season on a good team (Philadelphia in 17-18), Covington totaled 6.1 win shares (5th on the team), 4.5 of which came on the defensive end (2nd on the team).

Those accolades and advanced statistics are all attempts to quantify what is difficult to quantify: defensive effectiveness in the NBA. But in addition to Covington passing the eye test of pretty much every coach, scout, executive, and media member you can find, hopefully the numbers paint a bit of a picture of how much he helps teams in a true “glue guy” role.

Covington’s shot isn’t quite elite, but he’s probably a bit more reliable than his 35.4% this year illustrates. A full 62.5% of his shot attempts are from beyond the arc, so at 8 attempts per 36 minutes he certainly is comfortable taking shots (compare to former Clipper Matt Barnes, who shot threes willingly when left by defenses and peaked at 6.0 attempts per 36). Of those attempts, over 25% (!) are against either “very tight” or “tight” defense, according to NBA tracking data. He shoots around 32% on those, but a much more respectable 36.7% on his “open” threes, which account for 57% of his attempts, and a strong 38.3% on his “very open” shots, which make up 18% of his attempted threes.

Those numbers are more than sufficient, but also come in a bit of a down year. In his last year in Philly, the 23% of Covington’s three-point attempts that came against “tight” defense saw him make 38.9% of his shots, while he shot 38% when “open” or “very open”—essentially indicating that a defender nearby did not impact his comfort level while shooting.

So, if Covington is so good, why is his impact moderate-high instead of very high? Mostly, it’s an issue of redundancy. Covington is very good at what he does, but he’s a 3-and-D wing. The Clippers happen to feature Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, so they aren’t exactly in urgent need of Covington’s services. In fact, he’s the kind of guy that other Western Conference playoff teams should be chasing at the deadline to help them against the Clippers. That doesn’t mean he would be without value to the Clippers, though. Currently, the Clippers are playing small and running Moe Harkless at power forward—Covington would be a significant upgrade at both ends. A potential small-ball lineup that features Patrick Beverley, George, Leonard, and Covington would be a terror to other teams offensively and defensively. And even in situations where the Clippers don’t want to play small, Covington is a much, much better substitute for their star wings than the likes of Rodney McGruder.

One more thing to consider as part of Covington’s value: he recently turned 29 and has a very team-friendly contract for two more years. He’s in his prime, underpaid, and won’t be able to even think about leaving in free agency until July 2022.

Likeliness of Availability: Low-Moderate

The answer to the question “is Covington available?” is probably a yes. But that doesn’t mean he’s available in the kinds of conversations that the Clippers have the assets to participate in. For example, if Covington was available for Mo Harkless and a first-round pick, then other teams would be lining up with offers of their own (and the Clippers’ pick is likely to be late in the draft). Even more than that, I’m not sure that the Wolves are interested in moving Covington for future picks—they probably would rather utilize his trade value as part of a larger package. Minnesota has a pretty severe need at point guard, and have been rumored to want to pursue D’Angelo Russell. Covington would be a very nice piece for the Warriors in a lineup with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

If such a deal doesn’t materialize, there’s no need for the Wolves to eagerly shop Covington; like I said, he has two additional affordable years remaining, so there will be plenty of opportunity to trade him in the future. And if something never comes up, remember that Minnesota is currently trying to make the jump to playoff status with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns and Covington is an excellent role player. Our friends at Canis Hoopus raise a good point:

Still, a big trade is unlikely to materialize for the Wolves, and a bunch of teams are going to be calling for Covington.

If the Clippers are sufficiently motivated to make him their deadline target, there are ways to add value beyond Harkless/LAC 2020 1st, but none are super exciting. In addition to their own future 2nd round picks, the Clippers have two future second rounders from Detroit in 2021 and 2023. That Detroit 2021 second round pick should have some sweetener value, as the Pistons are pretty bad, but a pair of seconds isn’t likely to really swing things for Minnesota. If LAC sent sharpshooting sophomore Landry Shamet to Minnesota, the Wolves would likely accept, but I doubt the Clippers would part with Landry unless it was to bring in a bigger piece.

One option I’ve contemplated is a joint pursuit of Covington and Wolves big man Gorgui Dieng, who I covered earlier this week. For salaries to work in such a deal, the Clippers would need to send out Harkless along with Jerome Robinson, Rodney McGruder, Montrezl Harrell and their first-round pick. Harrell, hopefully, would add value to the Wolves (although a bad fit with Towns means a third team would likely need to get involved), as would absorbing Dieng’s contract, which provides the Clippers with Trez’s replacement at backup center.

All in all, Covington would be a stellar addition for the Clippers, but the cost would be extremely high for a player who doesn’t even fill a major need.