Almost lost in the shuffle of blockbuster trades, the Portland Trail Blazers have reportedly added a player in Robert Covington that can elevate them toward being a contender in the Western Conference, per Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Rockets are finalizing a trade to send Robert Covington to Portland for Trevor Ariza and 2020 first-round pick and 2021 protected first-round pick, sources tell ESPN.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 17, 2020
The 2019-20 season saw the Blazers ride the hot hand of Damian Lillard to a seventh consecutive playoff appearance despite the team's missing 248 man-games due to injury during the regular season, per Spotrac's injured list tracker. Now, back at full strength and with Covington in the fold, we're looking at a very different team than the one that gave the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers some problems to open the postseason.
How does this impact Portland's outlook for the 2020-21 season? Let's begin with the new addition.
Covington fills a specific need
We've reached the point in his career where Covington's reputation as a 3-and-D player precedes him, and it's a reputation that is quite justified.
While he shot 31.5% from 3 in 22 regular-season games with Houston, Covington found his groove in the postseason, knocking down 50% of his 68 3-point attempts over 12 games, including a sweltering 53.2% of his catch-and-shoot attempts.
Let's be clear, you shouldn't expect him to continue to convert at that high of a clip but Covington is still a career 36.5% 3-point shooter, a welcome addition to one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league. Portland ranked 10th in made 3s per game and did so at a 37.7% clip, with is the third-highest rate in the league. Should Covington convert at a rate similar to the 36.5% he's shot for his career, you can count on Lillard and CJ McCollum to have even more space in the half court to operate.
That being said, it's the defensive element of the "3-and-D" that really makes this deal for the Blazers.
Covington, who will be 30 when the 2020-21 season begins, is just two years removed from earning a selection to the All-Defensive First Team. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Covington uses his length and instincts to be one of the league's best help-side defenders.
Case in point? He led the league in deflections per game in the 2016-17 season and has been in the top 10 each season since. This past season, Covington averaged 3.4 deflections per game, tied with Jimmy Butler for seventh in the league.
Portland's abysmal defensive rating of 114.3 in the 2019-20 season was better than that of only the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers. That's … not the best company.
Covington should help there right away.
Take into consideration that the Rockets posted a defensive rating of 112.6 with Covington off the floor and a defensive rating of 106.0 with him on the floor, and you'll see the type of impact he's capable of making on a defence.
While Covington alone might not have that much of a tangible impact on the Blazers' defence, he will definitely do his part to make it better. His defensive versatility was on full display as he posted averages of 1.6 steals and 2.2 blocks per game while serving as one of the small-ball Rockets' defensive anchors.
With Portland returning to full strength, Covington will have less of a burden with respect to having to guard bigs. Those responsibilities will fall to the guys who are back at full strength.
They're healthy now
As mentioned above, Portland missed the second-most man-games to injury last season, with key contributors in Jusuf Nurkic (66), Zach Collins (63) and Rodney Hood (45) combining to miss 174, per Spotrac.
While Hood somewhat surprisingly opted out of his final year with the team after tearing his Achilles tendon, both Nurkic and Collins are returning after an extended offseason period as well as a chance to get re-acquainted with the team during training camp.
After missing over a calendar year of action due to a devastating leg injury, Nurkic looked like himself immediately upon his return, averaging 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 blocks during Portland's eight seeding games.
Nurkic does a little bit of everything and will also help on the defensive end thanks to his size and ability to make things difficult for opponents at the rim.
It's no secret that I'm high on Collins. Ahead of the 2019-20 season, I tabbed him to be the league's Most Improved Player as I felt he would be more than capable of stepping up into a big role while Nurkic recovered. Collins would suffer a shoulder injury just three games into the season, putting an end to MIP talks and although he returned for Portland's seeding games at the NBA Restart, an ankle injury held him out of postseason play.
Collins, who will be 23 when the season begins, is entering his fourth season after being selected 10th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. Up to this point in his career, he hasn't truly had an opportunity to show the upside that resulted in his being a top-10 pick.
This year is the year.
All things considered, a healthy Hood could still return to Portland should he not like what he sees on the free-agent market, it is just no longer a given that he returns.
Competing in the West
Ultimately, the question is: How good does this make the Blazers with respect to the rest of the Western Conference?
Despite all of the hardship and obstacles this past season, this is a team that managed to claw its way into earning the final playoff spot in the West. This was largely due to the fact that based on pure talent, this team had the profile of a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in a typical year.
Now, they're healthier and their young players are a year better.
Of course, it all begins with the team's own version of a big three in Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic, a trio that is as talented as just about any other trio in the West, especially considering most teams are following the model of building around duos.
This roster is now filled out with Covington, Collins as well as key depth pieces in Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and Mario Hezonja, while free-agent decisions loom for Hood and Carmelo Anthony. If we've learned anything this past season, it's that nothing is a given but Portland should be right in the mix of things for a spot in the West.
With the two teams in Los Angeles and Denver as essential locks to finish towards the top of the standings, Portland joins a group that also includes the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets (depending on the status of their All-Star backcourt), Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz as teams that will be jostling for playoff positioning.
Should they add another complementary piece, the Blazers rise toward the top of that list to make it eight straight trips to the postseason.
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