I always find the notion that a particular year's draft is "weak" hilarious. The 2013 Draft class was famously dubbed as a pathetic excuse for an incoming NBA rookie class. Three years later, very good NBA players have emerged from that draft. Giannis Antetokounmpo posted All-Star numbers after the All-Star break, C.J. McCollum is a stud. Rudy Gobert is one of the most valuable defensive players in the entire NBA. Don't forget about the surges from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kelly Olynyk, Allen Crabbe and Dennis Schroder this year, either.
The 2015 draft class was supposedly, similarly barren. Karl-Anthony Towns oozed potential and Jahlil Okafor was the most NBA-ready prospect. After those two big men loomed gigantic question marks. Fast forward to today and the 2015-16 rookie class made arguably the best class of any since 2003-04. And one of the most productive members of that class? Richaun Holmes.
Despite lasting until the 37th selection last June, Holmes finished the year tied with Bobby Portis for the 12th-most Win Shares amongst rookies -- two spots better than Okafor. Without Norman Powell morphing into a three-point shooting Tony Allen and Josh Richardson's Ray Allen impersonation down the stretch of the regular season, Holmes would have clearly been the biggest steal of last year's draft. And he's still proven so far to be incredibly value.
Holmes was as advertised this season. His bouncy play around the rim delivered a bevy of emphatic dunks, he protected the rim -- fifth amongst rookies in blocks per 36 minutes -- and he ran the floor like a damn gazelle.
Injuries ultimately hindered his development during Holmes' first professional season. He cheered from the end of Brett Brown's bench while wearing street clothes far too often for my liking. It began with a fractured elbow in Summer League and continued with a hamstring strain, a sprained ankle and then concluded with a right Achilles strain which robbed him of playing in 13 of the Sixers' final 15 games.
That month stretch in which Okafor was sidelined could have been an invaluable opportunity for Holmes to blossom, build confidence in perimeter skills he had been workshopping with coaches and gain tremendous experience battling against opposing teams fighting for playoff seedings. Instead, we witnessed Elton Brand's swan song and Carl Landry MVP chants.
Holmes clearly deserves a chance to make up for that lost time. But the current uncertainty of the Sixers' basketball operations leaves Holmes' status entirely up in the air. His contract is guaranteed for just over $1 million next season -- a clear indicator in how bullish Sam Hinkie was on his potential -- but you have to imagine a relatively unproven 22-year-old on that salary will be extremely expendable to Bryan Colangelo. The Sixers' front court is already log jammed with Okafor, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. Dario Saric presumably coming stateside only muddies those waters for Holmes even more.
The Sixers' coaching staff raved about Holmes' work ethic this season, though. Coaches said Holmes shot a far higher percentage from three-point land in practice than he did during actual games, 18.2 percent on 44 attempts.
Developing that consistent stroke will ultimately determine Holmes staying power in this league. There isn't much room on NBA rosters these days for 6'9 forwards that are only offensive pluses withing 5 feet of the rim. Routinely setting hard screens will also be a valuable improvement for him.
I'm swiping right on Holmes. There's too solid of a foundation on his shooting motion and too much raw athleticism to not, at a minimum, grind him through his first professional off season and see what form he can reach by October. I just hope he's not another casualty to the Colangelo siege.
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