The Philadelphia 76ers played their final game of January 2017 last night, and it was a pretty representative game of their month in general: They got out to a considerable early deficit against the Sacramento Kings, fought back slowly thanks to an impressive team effort and a raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd, took the lead and held it in unlikely fashion, before nearly blowing it all at the end (but somehow still escaping with the W). It was about as sweet a win as we've had in a month filled with honey-dipped victories, and it came in large part thanks to Robert Covington.
As you may recall, last time we checked in with RoCo here at the Level, it wasn't all biscuits and gravy. His offense -- particularly his three-point shooting -- had slipped to the point where he was getting (unfairly) booed by his home crowd, and we were having legitimate conversations about whether his shooting was likely to rebound, and if he was downright unplayable while he was bricking like Ben Folds. The conversation was of particular urgency because while Covington was struggling, the Sixers were losing -- the nadir came in Utah near the end of December, when Cov went 0-11 from the field and the Sixers lost by 17, their sixth L in seven games.
What a difference a month makes. After last night's 23 point, ten rebound outing -- his second straight 20/10 game, the first such streak in his career -- Covington finishes January averaging 14 and 7, with two steals, on 43% shooting, including 36% from three. Those numbers aren't mind-blowing by any stretch, but they're very solid; in line with (and actually even a little better than) Young Cov's career averages.
And wouldn't you know it? With Covington having his best month of the season, so were the Sixers -- posting a 10-5 record for January, their first 10-win month in about half a decade (and yes, as many Ws as they managed all of last season). Of course, that's not only RoCo, since you could also make the argument that Dario, Nerlens, T.J., TLC and JoJo have all also hit a new peak this January. But it does show you just how much difference it makes on this team's ceiling when Big Shot Bob is just posting his standard efficiency on offense, since he's now simply one of the best in the game on defense -- far and away leading his position at Real Plus-Minus, an analysis that definitely passes the eye test as well. (He's a +74 for the month entire, which seems about right.)
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Does this mean it's all gonna be sunshine, lollipops and rainbow triples with RoCo from here on? Unlikely: He'll go through more extended struggles, maybe even this season, and his production low-tides, so may the Sixers' potency with him on the court. But even if he sags from here again next month, this January should be a powerful enough reminder of how much this team needs Cov to reach their collective potential to buy him the slack he needs until he can shoot his way out of it. At the very last, we better not hear another boo attached to Lord Covington's name again at the WFC this season.