At the time of writing, the NBA only has two players on its roster from HBCUs. Aside from Kyle O’Quinn, who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, Robert Covington lines up for the Houston Rockets. Having come through the Proviso West High School in Illinois, the 29-year-old made his professional NBA debut with the Rockets in 2013.  

Since then, the forward has played for the 76ers, as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves, before returning to the two-time Championship winners in February 2020. At present, the Rockets have just overcome Oklahoma City in an enthralling seven game series, and it doesn’t get any easier for them as the LA Lakers are up next. With the 2019-20 season still unraveling, let’s take a look at what the Rockets can achieve in 2020-21. 

Seeking to Build on Last Season’s Performances 

Regardless of what happens in the ongoing playoffs, on a personal level, Covington will be full of confidence heading into the new campaign. In Game 5 of the series against Oklahoma City, Covington entered the fray in place of P.J. Tucker and proved to be the difference-maker. Interestingly, the Illinois-born small forward was central to his side setting a new record for the biggest by playoff margin in NBA history, according to Rockets Wire. 

The match itself was a reflection on Covington’s abilities, albeit despite the fact that he’s now a veteran of the sport. ESPN’s report of Game 5 states that the 29-year-old had 18 points in the match, one more than the nine-time NBA All-Star, Russell Westbrook. Moreover, the same report mentions that the HBCU product had, at the time of the game, recorded an 18-point average across his previous three matches. Compared to his 22 games for the Rockets across the 2019-20 campaign, this figure is considerably higher than his season-long average, which came in at 11.6, as per Basketball Reference.  

It’s also a testament to Covington’s professionalism that, despite being seven seasons into his NBA career, he’s now achieving near record-high numbers regarding minutes played. According to the above source, the small forward’s 33.0 average this season is the third-best across his spell in the NBA, falling just short of surpassing his 33.8 and 34.7 totals for the 76ers and Timberwolves in 2018-19.  

Playing a Role That Every Team Needs 

Six years after being waived by the Rockets, Covington made his return to the two-time Championship winners following a fruitful four years with the 76ers. Regarding individual accolades, the 29-year-old was named in the NBA All-Defensive Team in 2017-18. Having established himself as a big-time defender, it was hardly surprising to see Clutch City make their move to re-sign the small forward.  

Throughout NBA history, there have been fewer more curious cases than Covington. Despite his raw talent, the Wall Street Journal states that every team passed on him at the start of his professional career. However, the following years provided the foundations for the 29-year-old to develop a role that has since become integral within top-tier basketball. Aside from his on-court influence, where he is a smart points scorer and high-level defender, Covington is a team player. SBNation report that the Illinois-born small forward is an organizer capable of handling strong personalities.

Crucially, these attributes will be central to the Rockets’ chances of sustained success. As of September 3rd, the two-time Championship winners are priced at +1200 to win the 2019-20 NBA Championship with sports betting at Royal Panda. Moreover, they’re also ahead of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference outright betting.

Continuing to Get Better with Time  

Even though Covington was overlooked during his first draft entry, the Rockets can be thankful that they eventually took a chance on the 29-year-old. While it will be a tough ask to replicate his 2017-18 form in the coming years, few can argue that the Illinois-born forward is continuing to improve. In turn, he could prove to be the decisive factor in the Rocket’s short-term success.