Joel Embiid has anointed himself “The Process.”
On the surface, that’s a fitting name for the face of the 76ers organization. However, Robert Covington is more of “The Process” than Embiid.
The now-infamous “Trust the Process” slogan was intended for fans to remain patient while the Sixers tanked for top lottery picks and free-agent diamonds in the rough.
While the Sixers don’t mention it, they never intended to select Embiid. They tanked during the 2013-14 season with the hope of getting Andrew Wiggins, Embiid’s Kansas teammate at the time. Jabari Parker was their backup option.
At the time, the Sixers thought they had a franchise center in Nerlens Noel. They even traded then-all-star Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans on the night of the 2013 NBA draft for Noel, shortly after the Pelicans selected him sixth overall.
Things changed after Cleveland Cavaliers took Wiggins first and the Milwaukee Bucks selected Parker second in the 2014 draft. So with the third pick, the Sixers basically had no choice but to select the injured Embiid in what was regarded as a three-player draft.
So the Sixers acquired him, and his ability later to ascend to the top of the center food chain had to do with luck – not trusting any process. He’s a guy who was sidelined his first two seasons and missed 51 games last season with injuries.
But there’s no denying that when it comes to finding and developing unheralded players, Covington is part of the process.
These days, he’s regarded as one of the league’s top perimeter shooters, who are also standout defenders known as “3-and-D” guys. That’s why the Sixers signed him to a contract renegotiation/four-year extension worth $61.6 million on Friday.
He was, at best, a marginal NBA talent when the Sixers signed him on Nov. 15, 2014.
At the time, Covington was with the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League after being waived by the Houston Rockets.
He played seven games during the 2013-14 season for the Rockets. But they assigned him to their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers, for the most part.
That season, Covington was the G-league rookie of the year and league’s 2013-14 all-star game MVP with the Vipers.
However, Covington had limitations. The thought was he needed to get bigger, lacked solid defensive and didn’t really have an NBA position.
At the time, three-point shooting was Covington’s lone NBA skill. But constantly jacking ill-advised threes, the 6-foot-9, 215-pounder really didn’t know when to utilize his skill.
The Sixers saw him as much more than a tall guy with shooting range. They were intrigued by his athleticism, hands and 7-foot-4 wingspan. They also found him to be much stronger than he was given credit for being.
In their mind, he was someone who could become an elite defender in this league.
Coach Brett Brown even challenged him on that shortly after signing with the Sixers. It was a challenge that Covington welcomed.
“When he first gave me the challenge, I took the initiative to make myself to become one of those types of players,” Covington said. “I knew it was not going to happen overnight. It took time.
“But now that we are here, I’ve established myself as one of the top-tier defenders and ‘3-and-D’ players in this league.”
The transformation occurred last season when Covington led the league in pass deflections per game. He also ranked fourth in the league in steals. Those statistics enabled him to finish fourth in the NBA defensive player of the year voting.
He’s still one of the league’s best defenders.
Covington was fourth in the NBA in deflections at 3.4 deflections per game heading into Saturday night’s contest against the Golden State Warriors. He was also one of nine players with at least 20 steals and 10 blocks this season. Offensively, Covington made 50 out of 101 three-point attempts this season as of Friday.
The Chicago native is one of five NBA players to record at least 500 three-pointers and 350 steals since the start of the 2014-15 season. Covington had 528 threes and 352.
“He knew I could shoot,” Covington said of Brown. “He knew what I was capable of. But he knew that wasn’t going to be the only thing that was going to allow me to prosper in this league.
“You have to be able to defend.”
Covington has worked hard on perfecting both skills during his tenure with the Sixers. He’ll usually put in extra time after practices and shootarounds with assistant coach Lloyd Pierce.
You see, the process was about developing young players amid the tanking.
“So [it didn’t have to have] a name, a status, a draft pick or anything,” Pierce said.
In a sense, it was about the team growing the program with young players they deemed suitable for the team’s and city’s culture.
“So Rob has exemplified that as well as anybody,” Pierce said.