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Robert Covington’s shooting slumps aren’t acceptable

If J.J. Redick is indeed no longer part of the Philadelphia 76ers’ starting lineup, small forward Robert Covington can’t have his usual prolonged shooting funks.

The general rule with Robert Covington is, the less you see him play, the more impressed you are with him.

The analytics people are absolutely ga-ga over him. His win shares and other cool stats like deflections are awesome and, if drafting a fantasy team, he would be a good get.

Even respected journals like Sports Illustrated have hopped on the ‘RoCO is good’ bandwagon, naming him one of their top 50 players in the NBA.

There are plenty of positive reasons to like Covington’s game. He came to the ‘processing’ Philadelphia 76ers early in the 2014-15 season as a pure gunner, and his outside shooting was one of the few offensive weapons the 76ers had back then. He has worked hard on his defense, even being named to the first team All-NBA defensive team this past season.

Covington is also a good teammate and overall nice guy, a perfect culture fit for what the 76ers hope to build.

There is only one group who does not think Covington is one of the top players in the NBA — fans.

It is not a unanimous viewpoint, but, a lot of the people who fill the stands at the Center have the same opinion of Covington: He is total trash on offense.

The boos cascade throughout the arena during those string of games he shoots clunker after clunker.

Yeah, they admit, he is a nice defensive player (although not one-on-one, as the Boston series showed) but the weeks that go by where he jacks up 3-point shots and almost none of them go in, some simply airballs, drive fans crazy.

When Covington is in one of his bad shooting jags, it is not like his shooting percentage goes down a bit. It is more like 2-for-20 for a few games. That is making 10 percent, meaning you would have a better chance of Amir Johnson hitting a ‘3’ than a slumping RoCo.

His poor outside shooting spells are accentuated because he has such a limited game offensively. Covington does not finish well on drives to the basket, and he does not have the best handle to begin with. Covington says he worked on those deficiencies over the summer, so we shall see as the season unfolds.

Now Covington has always gotten out of those funks and ended the season with a decent shooting percentage from beyond the 3-point line (36.9 percent last year). While in the past the 76ers simply waited out Covington’s shooting funks, this upcoming season is not like the others Covington has been a part of.

As coach Brett Brown put it at training camp, the 76ers’ goal is to make the NBA finals. Brown is also fiddling with the starting lineup, putting in Markelle Fultz instead of J.J. Redick.

There are certain things Fultz does better than Redick, but outside shooting is not one of them.

We are not going to go over all of Fultz’s shooting woes in his rookie season, as that has been covered plenty.

After taking 150,000 shots over the summer, Fultz’s jumper is better (even making a 3-pointer vs. Orlando) but no one is hailing him as the next Redick, one of the top 3-point shooters in the league.

Fultz is paired in the backcourt with Ben Simmons, who is not much for taking outside shots.

So the 76ers have a starting backcourt which will try to avoid putting up a shot past 10 feet. Fultz and Simmons each do a lot of things really well, but Brown needs someone in the starting lineup to make an outside shot.

While center Joel Embiid and power forward Dario Saric are both decent from beyond the arc, having your two post players be the only ones launching 3-pointers is not ideal.

This is where Covington comes in. If he is a threat from the 3-point line, it opens up the inside for Embiid to play his ‘bully ball’ and space for expert slashers Fultz and Simmons to get to the hoop (Saric always figures out a way to contribute).

Covington reverting to his spells as  ‘Mr. Airball’ and just jacking up miss after miss, well, that basically can’t happen anymore. Not on a championship contender.

For the Fultz-Simmons backcourt to work, Covington has to step up and be a consistent shooter.

If Covington goes into total trash mode on offense, Brown might have to yank Fultz from the starting lineup in favor of Redick simply to get some outside shooting. Covington is too valuable on defense to bench.

That would not be good for Fultz’s development nor the 76ers’ chances at an Eastern Conference title.

The first two preseason games have been a microcosm of Covington’s career offensive performance.

In the opener he went 0-for-3 against Melbourne United but came back against Orlando and was a solid 3-for-5 on three-pointers and finished with nine points.

Covington does not need to be shooting 60 percent for the 76ers to succeed, but if they are truly going to be a force to be reckoned with in the East, the can no longer accept ‘o-fers’ like against Melbourne.

Next: 15 players who defined ‘The Process’

The process has reached another level. It is now all about winning titles, and Covington has to raise his game to meet the new normal.

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