Richaun Holmes: The Shining Light in the Dark for Sacramento

Richaun Holmes has been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing start to the 2019-20 season for Sacramento.

The Sacramento Kings have been one of the NBA’s biggest early disappointments. After last season left many hopeful about the future of the team, the Kings have started out 3-6 and have had trouble on both sides of the ball. The defense, not their strong suit last year, has slipped somewhat while the offense has cratered in efficiency and slowed to a crawl. There’s certainly still reason to have hope for this year—their coach has never run a slow offense until this year, and the pace may continue to pick up as the team recovers from their truncated preseason and stopover in India.

One of the biggest reasons for hope, oddly enough, has been the most under-the-radar signing of the Kings’ busy offseason. Richaun Holmes has averaged 10.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while making 63.5% of his shots. He quickly earned a spot in the starting lineup over Dewayne Dedmon due to his athleticism and infectious energy. His quickness and hops make him an ideal running mate for De’Aaron Fox, and he’s shown signs of growth on the defensive end.

The Sacramento Kings have a difficult schedule in November and they have already lost a lot of ground in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. While most of the team is likely to play better for the rest of the year after their cold starts, the Kings might want to start relying more heavily on Holmes sooner rather than later to keep the team afloat.

Offense: Energy, Energy, Energy

Clichés like “giving 110%” were made for players like Richaun Holmes. From the moment he gets on the floor until the moment he checks out, he doesn't stop working. You usually think of off-ball shooters like Klay Thompson or JJ Redick as players who have gravity due to their touch and constant movement, but Holmes does something similar without the threat of a long-range shot. He has a different kind of gravity that comes mostly through defying it:

The Kings don’t miss Willie Cauley-Stein on the defensive end, but there was plenty of reason to fear that they would miss him on offense. He ran in transition better than pretty much any center in the league, and was always a trailing lob threat for Fox in transition. Holmes is not the same kind of otherworldly athlete as Cauley-Stein, but he comes about as close as you can get to that level of speed and leaping ability. The main difference between Holmes and Cauley-Stein is on plays outside of transition - Richaun is a willing screener with a wider frame than his predecessor. The Kings will benefit more from Holmes’s pick-and-roll ability than they already do if they can cobble together a better half-court offense.

Holmes has often been the only off-ball player in motion during some of the team’s more stagnant offensive possessions—somewhat shocking given Buddy Hield’s Thompson-esque potential off-ball. While the lack of movement may be an intentional offensive decision by the coach, that seems unlikely given his playbook in prior stops. If the Kings can start moving the ball more and having players move more without the ball, Holmes’s complementary skills on offense may become even more important.

Holmes might be more of a complementary player on offense, but he is a valuable contributor who doesn't try to do too much. 85.7% of his shots have come within ten feet of the basket per, which is the right amount given his shaky jumper. While being able to shoot triples from the center spot is a big advantage in the modern NBA, the next best thing to an all-around threat at center is having a consistent roll threat out of the pick-and-roll.

The Kings have a theoretical shooter at center in Dedmon already anyway; as long as Holmes continues to do what he does best and doesn't try to overextend himself, he is a huge asset on offense. This Kings team needs vertical threats at the big man spots to play with De'Aaron Fox to take full advantage of his drives to the rim, and Holmes is more than capable of filling that role.

Defense: Steady Growth

Defense was always going to be the determining factor in the NBA career of Richaun Holmes. His relative lack of size for a center (generously listed at 6'10" with a 7'2" wingspan) has never really impacted him on offense or on the glass due to his explosiveness and effort level. On the defensive end, however, his athleticism has been a hindrance as well as a helper. In his early days in Philadelphia, he would chase blocks and leave himself without a chance to recover.

He isn't likely to make an All-Defensive team any time soon, but his defense is worlds better than it was early in his career. He has the foot speed and lateral quickness to stay with guards on switches, but never really took advantage of that in Philly or Phoenix because he was usually not in the right position to do so. His defensive capabilities have always been hindered by his jumpiness. These days? Well, it’s hard to do much better on the perimeter as a big man than he did on this critical play:

Holmes jumps just a little bit early, but that is really the only minor flaw here and he still contests the shot well. This was one of the most clutch defensive stops that you could imagine, but he is still not a regular positive on the defensive end. He is a decent but not great rim protector for his position; opponents are shooting 54.1% against Holmes on shots within six feet of the rim per That mark is 2.6% below league average, but was helped by a good game against Atlanta; his percentage allowed near the basket was actually above league-average before that game. Still, it's a far cry form the 66% shooting mark that Willie Cauley-Stein allowed from that range last season. The Kings just need Holmes to be solid enough on that end to justify putting him in for his offensive game. So far this season, he’s been more than up to that particular challenge.

Future Outlook

Before the season started, it looked like Richaun Holmes didn't have much of a chance at cracking the top half of the rotation. He was clearly behind Dewayne Dedmon on the center pecking order given their respective contracts, he wasn’t as versatile as Nemanja Bjelica as a backup power forward, and he wasn't as key to the team’s future plans as Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles. Since then, Dedmon has been disappointing, Bagley has been hurt, and Giles has been on the shelf; the team is apparently worried enough about him that they declined his option for next year.

Holmes will probably not be playing this many minutes in a couple of months, purely because of Bagley’s return. Ultimately, the two fill similar niches as hyper-athletic combo big men who are much better on offense than on defense and who should probably spend most of their minutes at center. Bagley has a much more developed offensive arsenal and a much higher ceiling, so the question for Holmes will be how he can play alongside Marvin going forward. Ultimately, the Kings will have to try to play them together at times to get their best big men on the floor. The season is young, but Richaun Holmes is already a fan favorite and the brightest spot in the darkness of these first few weeks in Sacramento.

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