Clippers’ Robert Covington deflects passes, not credit

Clippers forward Robert Covington shoots as Golden State Warriors guard Damion Lee defends.
Clippers forward Robert Covington shoots as Golden State Warriors guard Damion Lee defends during the second half on Monday at Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Robert Covington took issue with a suggestion late Monday night that he had deflected five, or maybe six of Golden State’s passes during that night’s Clippers rout.

“I think that’s kind of a little bit too low,” Covington said.

For the 31-year-old wing, acquired in a Feb. 4 trade with Portland along with guard Norman Powell, deflections aren’t accidents. They are one reason why despite being undrafted out of Tennessee State, he has stuck in the NBA for nine seasons. They are the result of hours of practice, and tangible evidence why he “is one of those guys that take defense personal,” coach Tyronn Lue said before Tuesday’s game at Phoenix.


“I say it all the time, I probably got the fastest hands in the league when it comes down to it,” he said. “I take pride in being the disruptor and that’s what I’m here for. To be the disruptor in all aspects throughout the game.”

Trailing the Suns by 13 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Clippers made up that ground within eight minutes before taking a lead on a Reggie Jackson jumper for a two-point edge. But from there their spark faded, the Clippers scoring just six points in the final six minutes as Chris Paul threw back-to-back lobs to Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker, and L.A., playing for the second consecutive night, didn’t have enough energy to keep up in a 103-96 loss.

Marcus Morris Sr. scored 23 points and Nicolas Batum had 18. The comeback was primed by Covington, who had three steals and many more deflections that denied Suns possessions.

Terance Mann had another strong game with 25 points as the Clippers defeated the Golden State Warriors 119-104 on Monday night at Arena.

Covington’s 169 total deflections entering Tuesday ranked third in the NBA, though if the league’s official count that credited him for only three deflections Monday is any indication, Covington’s season total is likely closer to league leaders Dejounte Murray (198) and Fed VanVleet (194).

During parts of four seasons in Philadelphia, Covington became especially proficient in a drill in which the 76ers would station two lights generally nine feet apart. The lights flashed at random and players were timed how quickly they could pass a hand in front of it. Eventually, the 76ers’ player performance staff, which then included Todd Wright, the Clippers’ vice president of player performance since 2019, ramped up the difficulty by forcing players to move toward each flashing strobe in different ways — only shuffling, or twisting their hips to step over one leg, like a defensive back preparing to turn upfield.

Covington’s timing stood out each time, as did his ability to process information. It helped that the 6-foot-6¼ wing possessed a wingspan of 7-13/4. He earned second-team all-defense honors during his third season with the 76ers, and fifth in the league.

“I’ve always been great with my hands, but the amount of things that we did in Philadelphia with me and Todd, like we used to use the strobe lights to read and react and he used to test me on it,” Covington said. “And then in my summer workouts I’d do this with some of my trainers, and it’s just about read and reacting to that. That’s just something that I’ve worked on it.

“Like I said, it’s just something that I know I have quick hands, so let’s see who fast I can make it and how fast I can maneuver getting through a certain series of lights. So it’s really just practice, repetition, instinct.”

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson knocks the ball away from Clippers forward Robert Covington.
Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson knocks the ball away from Clippers forward Robert Covington during the first half Tuesday in Phoenix.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

Covington’s contract expires following this season, and his long-term future with the team isn’t guaranteed. But deflections when he plays virtually are. He is one of only eight players averaging at least three deflections per game, a number he, again, likely considers too low.

“He gets a deflection almost every possession,” Lue said.

Craig returns

Monday was Covington’s fifth game with the Clippers — and his first time speaking with the team’s defensive architect, lead assistant Dan Craig.

Before Monday, Craig had not coached in person since Dec. 11 because of knee surgery and rehabilitation. Assistant Brendan O’Connor had filled in as the lead defensive assistant during games in Craig’s absence, a span in which the team’s defensive rating ranked 17th in the league.

“I know it takes a lot of pressure off [O’Connor], who I thought did a great job stepping in,” Lue said. “Got to do everything by committee and BOC did a great job and like I said I know he’s the most happiest guy in the world to get Dan Craig back and so Dan’s the one who started it, the foundation and everything so having him back has been good.”

Clippers guard Norman Powell has been sidelined indefinitely because of a fractured bone in his left foot, the team announced Sunday.

Powell update

The Clippers are “hopeful” Powell can return this season from the fractured bone in his left foot that has sidelined him the last three games, Lue said, and for now his recovery isn’t believed to require surgery.

“Definitely a tough break but he’s handling it really well,” said Covington, who became Powell’s teammate in Portland last season.”