Minnesota Timberwolves Player Review: Robert Covington

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 30: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 30: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Robert Covington was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ second-best player and half of the return in the Jimmy Butler trade, but was relegated to just 22 games due to injury.

The Jimmy Butler trade put the Philadelphia 76ers in a tough spot. Sure, they landed a four-time All-Star and one of the league’s best two or three two-way perimeter players. But they also decimated their depth, and namely, their perimeter shooting and defense.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have seemingly been in a constant search of talent on the perimeter. In an era dominated by “3-and-D” players who shoot 3-pointers at a prolific clip and can play lock-down defense, the Wolves have simply failed to find any consistency on the perimeter.

The likes of Wesley Johnson and Corey Brewer didn’t turn into true 3-and-D threats after being selected in the draft. Trading for Martell Webster and then Chase Budinger ended in both players battling injuries throughout their tenure in Minnesota. Andrew Wiggins has been a volume scorer but inconsistent both on defense and with his long-range jumper.

Robert Covington, however, is the pinnacle of a 3-and-D player. While his career mark of 36 percent from beyond the arc isn’t anywhere near the league’s best, he’s beyond willing to launch threes and typically hovers just north of league-average from deep.

On defense, Covington finished the 2017-18 campaign with the league’s best Defense Real Plus-Minus among small forwards, clocking in at 4.24 — more than a full point ahead of No. 2 Kyle Anderson and twice the final DRPM for No. 3 Otto Porter, Jr.

That followed the 2016-17 season, when Covington also led in DRPM, finishing at 4.11 and more than a full point ahead of Anderson, who landed the No. 2 spot that year, too.

Despite playing in only 35 games between Philadelphia and Minnesota in 2018-19, Covington finished in first-place in DRPM among small forwards once again at 3.53. And while it wasn’t even a half-season, it was still the third consecutive year that RoCo finished at the top of the list.

Covington is a solid one-on-one defender and outstanding within the team concept. His length, athleticism, and defensive savvy were invaluable to forcing opposing teams into turnovers.

The Wolves were 12-10 with Covington in the lineup, and in Covington’s first eight games in Minnesota, the Timberwolves didn’t give up more than 103 points in a game, going 6-2 in that stretch.

Covington’s final numbers of 14.5 points, 5.7 points, and 2.7 steals per game would have been great over the course of an entire season, with the scoring average clocking-in as RoCo’s career-best. But a bone bruise in his knee on New Year’s Eve in New Orleans cost him the rest of his season and eventually led to surgery in the spring.

There was some optimism that Covington would return to the court as the Wolves were still teetering on the edge of playoff competition, but a setback dashed those hopes.

Covington is on a fantastically team-friendly deal, with three years and roughly $36.5 million remaining on his contract. He’s still just 28 years old, and assuming that he recovers from his knee injury at something close to full strength, the Wolves will have one of the league’s better starting wings to slot in alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and RoCo’s former Sixers teammate Dario Saric.

The book cannot be written on the Butler trade for quite some time. We still don’t know if Butler will return to the 76ers in the offseason, assuming he opts out of the final year of his contract. And it will be a year or two or perhaps more before we know the full impact that Covington and Saric will have on the Wolves.

Presuming relative health, however, the Wolves will absolutely have a fantastic 3-and-D wing at their disposal for the 2019-20 season.

Next. Comparing the Wolves' outlook to the Sixers'. dark

Now, it’s up to the front office to find a way to fill out the rest of the rotation with players worthy of being part of playoff-caliber roster.