Robert Covington is a talker on the floor. You can see him talking to his teammates on the floor and if Target Center is quiet enough you can also hear him shouting instructions like “hand up” to someone guarding a perimeter shooter.
The chatter is a part of Covington’s game and it’s something he has honed in his NBA career. Specifically, Covington has learned the delicate balance of when to talk to guys and when to lay off during a game.
“I know how to read it,” Covington said after Wednesday’s 128-89 win over the Spurs. “Emotions are flying and everything like that. That’s just part of my character. … I pick the right moments and that’s when I approach guys. I would never want to sit up here and rub people the wrong way because not a lot of people will typically react the right way.”
This is not an insignificant quality to have on this Wolves team. You might remember that after Jimmy Butler’s final game with the Wolves, he decried his teammates’ abilities to handle criticism, and that was causing the team to torpedo early in the season.
“I don’t think everybody can handle it. I don’t. I know actually … ” Butler said after a loss to Sacramento on Nov. 9. “Everybody got to talk to one another and be able to handle it if somebody says something they may not like. We’re all grown men.”
Covington, who scored 21 points and was an eye-popping plus-44 on Wednesday, isn’t keeping to himself and is making his thoughts verbal. But perhaps Covington is doing it in a way that is walking that fine line between helpful and destructive with his teammates in a way Butler couldn’t.
Consider that Covington isn’t shy about telling Karl-Anthony Towns what he needs to be doing on the defensive end of the floor.
“You got to keep him engaged,” Covington said. “That’s going to allow him to take his game to another level. I’ve seen it at both ends. A guy that has great talent offensively, but if you engage yourself more on defense, you can affect the game in so many different ways just by your activity.
“I’ve been on ‘Kat.’ I’ve been on a lot of guys, but just bringing a defensive mindset here, it’s very contagious and a lot of people are picking up on it.”
It certainly doesn’t seem to be affecting how Covington and Towns get along off the court. The two constantly are talking in the locker room, making fun of each other and were chatting about dinner plans after Wednesday’s victory. Towns’ interactions with Butler in the locker room weren’t anything like that, at least when the media were present.
Covington said this role is an extension of what he was doing in Philadelphia where he was “the vocalist.”
“That’s what I’ve been thus far,” Covington said. “My teammates are building trust in me and I’m building trust in them. By us continuing to stay on the run and stay positive and continue to work, that’s what’s going to allow the chemistry amongst us to be a lot better.”
Added Tyus Jones: “Rob, he’s always talking. He’s always talking to guys even if it’s little things. He’s reading people, pulling guys aside … saying little things and it goes a long way.”
The proof is in the numbers. The Wolves had the third-worst defensive rating after Butler’s final game with the team. After Wednesday, they had the best in the NBA over their last eight games. Covington may not be as complete a player as Butler is, but he seems to be able to get through to and inspire his teammates in a way that wasn’t happening earlier this season.
“When you see someone like him working that hard, it’s contagious,” Towns said. “The energy is contagious and you just want to make sure you never let him down.