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Robert Covington: top-50 fantasy pick for 2017-18?

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Joe Kaiser and Kyle Soppe, and ESPN NBA Insider Bradford Doolittle.
Only one player in the NBA is averaging at least two 3-pointers, one steal and one block per game this season: Robert Covington (two 3-pointers, 1.9 steals and one block per game). He ranks 45th on the ESPN Player Rater (averages), and his recent hot play has him in the top-15 over the past two weeks. Still, he is owned in just 68.6 percent of ESPN leagues. Do you think he is a legitimate keeper worthy of a top-50 pick in next season's fantasy drafts?
Joe Kaiser: Covington is one of the most underappreciated players in fantasy hoops, so it's good to see him getting a little glory. The past three seasons have been good for him, playing 27.9 minutes [per game] or more in each of them. That, as much as anything, has helped give the 6-foot-9 forward the chance to fire away from 3-point land and rack up steals and blocks on the defensive end.

Any hesitation with anointing him as a top-50 player heading into next season stems from the uncertainty regarding Philadelphia's roster. Ben Simmons will be entering the fold. Dario Saric will be more established. And Joel Embiid will be back and ready to go. That leaves the shooting guard and small forward spots up for grabs, and with Philadelphia slated to get another top-five pick, there's a chance they could land someone like a Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum, who would cut into Covington's minutes.

If the Sixers go into next season with Covington slated to be the starting small forward, though, expect him to slide in drafts and to again be one of the best values out there in the middle rounds. His production continues to fly under the radar on a team full of young future stars.

Kyle Soppe: I think trying to #TrustTheProcess for any player older than 23 on the Sixers' roster is dangerous (53.3 percent of their roster is no older than 23), and with Covington more than four months into his 26th year of life, you're playing with fire a bit. OK, so that's a bit dramatic, but you get the point: It's risky.

That said, yes, I will have RoCo ranked inside my top 50 next season. The recent production isn't really out of the blue; since the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, Covington is averaging better than two 3-pointers per game and two steals-plus-blocks, the type of versatile skill set that has made Nicolas Batum a top-50 selection. Much like Batum, Covington's scoring potential is limited (his shot-attempt count hasn't changed much over the last three seasons despite a slight bump in playing time), but I draft high-floor players in the early rounds, and he profiles as such.

Philadelphia will look to play their young stars as much as possible, but with Covington making his bones as a high-level defender (currently a top-20 defender in terms of defensive real plus/minus), his 30-ish minutes should be reasonably safe. You're paying for stability over upside here, but you'll have the opportunity to draft high-ceiling players in the first few rounds.

Sign me up for Covington in the fifth round in 2017 drafts.

Bradford Doolittle: Probably not. Don't get me wrong -- I love Covington, who has been one of the more unsung role players in the league the last few years, and one of its biggest bargains. He leads all small forwards in defensive RPM this season after ranking third last season.

His recent surge, however, is as much a product of Philly's frontcourt injuries as it is any change in his game. Going forward, it seems like Covington would be a perfect fit as the Sixers' starting three, while they figure out the Saric-Simmons-Embiid-Jahlil Okafor big-man rotation. (And don't forget Richaun Holmes.)

However, Covington has consistently put up better results as a stretch four than as a three. Given his cheap team option for next season and valuable skill set, the Sixers could really get a nice return in a trade as they try to balance their roster with a stronger backcourt. But no matter where Covington goes, he's going to primarily be a 3-and-D guy. An excellent player, top-50 in advanced metrics, but probably not in the fantasy realm.

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