MILWAUKEE – Throughout the preseason, the Timberwolves have followed through with their plans to play Robert Covington at the 4, or power forward position.
The 6-8 Covington has made his career on the wing as one of the league's elite perimeter defenders. The Wolves, however, aren't afraid to sacrifice a little size for shooting and speed.
Shrinking the lineup can have its drawbacks, chief among them your ability to rebound. With Covington at the 4, where will the Wolves get their rebounding aside from Karl-Anthony Towns?
The answer appears to be, well, from Covington.
Covington had 19 rebounds against Indiana on Tuesday and followed that with 11 in Thursday's 118-96 loss to Milwaukee in the preseason finale. He hasn't averaged more than 6.5 rebounds in any year as he enters the seventh pro season.
But this isn't exactly new territory for Covington, who played the 4 and sometimes the 5 (center) in college and high school.
"It doesn't really affect me …" he said. "Just got to sit up here and adjust, do what the team asks. It's just taking me back to my old roots."
Covington's prowess on the glass could help ease some of the burden of Towns in that area. This is also not a coincidence that Covington is rebounding more. It has been a point of emphasis the coaching staff has put on him since the Wolves are experimenting with smaller lineups.
"He knows he's got to be a better rebounder for us to be successful," coach Ryan Saunders said. "But he's not the only guy that we've challenged. We want Andrew [Wiggins] to be a better rebounder. We've got to rebound better from the wing position, rebound better from the guard position and with that comes better pace, because if you have your wings, guys that can rebound the basketball you're getting out in the open court."
That is the beginning of the Wolves playing the faster tempo they want to reach this season, and Covington, along with Towns, can be the first step in transition.
"That's a testament to him," Towns said. "People haven't studied his game, who he was and not looked at his story. … He's been playing that for a while. He had to transfer to being a guard to be in this league. He did what he had to do to put his family in a great financial standpoint and play this game at the highest level. Now he's just showing what he can do at the 5 and 4 spot."
It's not as if the Wolves are breaking new ground with this move — several teams have "small ball" lineups they deploy, or as Towns put it, "4s usually are 3s at this time and age in the NBA."
But not all teams have someone in their smaller lineups who may be able to rebound from that spot the way Covington has this week.
"Guys are very athletic in this league and you got to use the things that sit up here and give you an advantage," Covington said. "Being a power forward before playing center at some point in my career, I still have some tendencies."