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Should the Rockets be worried about Covington’s defensive regression?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 27: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on against the Sacramento Kings in the fourth quarter of the game at Target Center on January 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Kings defeated the Timberwolves 133-129 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 27: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on against the Sacramento Kings in the fourth quarter of the game at Target Center on January 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Kings defeated the Timberwolves 133-129 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
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Although Houston Rockets newcomer Robert Covington has been perceived as an elite-level defender throughout his career, the advanced analytics regarding his defense this season should give Rockets fans cause for concern.

Much has been made about incoming Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington’s ability to be an elite defender, and rightfully so considering how he was voted to the All-Defensive team during the 2017-18 season, not to mention the fact that he’s received votes for the All-Defense team dating back to the 2016-17 season. It’s exciting that the Rockets were able to land a stellar wing defender such as RoCo, because the combination of Covington and PJ Tucker poses significant challenges to opposing offenses.

Although Covington is a significant upgrade for a Rockets team in need of defense, there’s been a disturbing trend regarding Covington this season. Simply put, RoCo has taken a backseat on the defensive end of the floor, based on the numbers. RoCo has averaged only 1.9 defensive win shares, which are the second-fewest of any season in which he played at least 30 games. On top of that, he has a defensive box plus minus of 1.4, which is his worst since the 2015-16 season, and ranks just 42nd in the league.

The best example of his defensive dropoff is his defensive field-goal percentage, which is just 48.2 percent. This is the worst defensive field-goal percentage of his entire seven-year career, and would actually rank bottom-third on the Houston Rockets this season.

This doesn’t necessarily mean RoCo’s defensive struggles will continue in Houston, because his social media posts following the trade have shown how he’s excited and happy to be in Houston, which could lead to a turnaround in the right direction. He certainly will be motivated to be playing on a contender, and this Rockets team is the best team he’s played on through the first seven years of his career.

We’ve seen far too many times how a change of scenery can make a tremendous difference for a player, and the Rockets’ own Ben McLemore has been an example of that, albeit on the opposite end of the floor. McLemore is averaging 10.4 points per game, which is the second-most of his career, while also shooting 38.4 percent from deep, which is also the second-best of his career. McLemore has made the 13th most 3-pointers this season, which is incredible considering the fact that the 26-year-old guard almost found himself out of the league heading into this season.

But considering how many people have already expressed belief that the Rockets gave up too much for Covington, it can’t necessarily be ignored how RoCo has taken a stepback defensively this season, especially when you take into account the belief that Covington is expected to be the solution for the Rockets’ defensive woes.

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At the end of the day, RoCo has consistently proven himself to be an elite defender, and he instantly becomes the Rockets’ best defender, regardless of whether he’s had a stepback on that end of the floor. But the Rockets will need him to get back to his elite-level defensive play because they’ll be depending heavily on his abilities on that end of the floor.

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