The Philadelphia 76ers faced a familiar, early deficit against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 16, 2015. Another listless start prompted Brett Brown to turn to Richaun Holmes, down 13-6 just 4:53 into the game, seeking some form of contribution from his rookie off the bench. Now trailing 30-21, the product of Bowling Green State University set a rejected ball screen on Hollis Thompson's man and cut to the basket.
Holmes isn't timid about acknowledging his hesitancy on offense but on this particular play, Holmes cut to the basket with the ball cupped in his mitts, took two steps, climbed the ladder on veteran Al Horford en route to the basket and with a Dwight Howard-esque Superman flush, posterized one of the premier centers in the association.
Holmes bellowed a primal roar and beat his chest while staring down his adversary. He reveled in the chance to make a statement and called the dunk a "special moment." The isolated play epitomizes Holmes' role on a Sixers team that has a majority of their young talent in the frontcourt.
At 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, Holmes operated as the quintessential energy guy off the bench for the Sixers in his rookie campaign. He thrived in a supporting role before an injury derailed any chance he had at starting late in the season. Following a successful 51 games in his rookie campaign, Holmes, with the help of trainer Kevin Johnson, rehabbed and sought to make an impact in his second Summer League.
Producing 10.9 PPG, 4.0 BPG and 2.8 BPG in eight total games for the Summer Sixers, Holmes looked viable on both ends of the court. Holmes' positive approach to Summer League also played a part in his stellar play in July.
"It's about showing what you've worked on in the Summer League and have more opportunities to showcase it so in the season you can translate it to on the floor," Holmes told Liberty Ballers. "It's pretty much just about putting the work in so when your name is called you're prepared."
The showcases in Utah and Las Vegas, and even Orlando, hold different objectives for players. Some talents utilize the summer league as an outlet to showcase what areas of the game they've worked feverishly on in the offseason, while others try to capitalize on added playing time and make an impact in the statistical department. Holmes did both, coming off the bench and starting for the Sixers in the Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues.
Holmes felt very "bouncy" coming back from injury, but that wasn't the only area the 23-year-old combo big wanted to display on the court.
"Just working on catching and finishing; that was really important to show," Holmes said. "I really wanted to focus on that and it showed in the Summer League. I was just excited to get back on the floor, so there was a lot of energy [shown] as well."
Illustrated in the below clips, Holmes executed his focus heading into the July festivities and capitalized on the close-range looks when being fed near the basket.
Holmes feasted with fervor on high-percentage looks, but his sample size of adept close-range shooting doesn't stem from solely Summer League. Holmes attempted 57.2 percent of his shots from zero-to-three feet from the basket last season, finishing first on the team (among player who played in 51 games) at a 72.4 percent clip.
Per basketball-reference.com, Holmes ranked 12th in the NBA among 229 players that attempted at least 100 field-goal attempts from the aforementioned range. Along with finding success offensively near the basket in his rookie season, Holmes also played with maximum intensity.
"I feel that I can bring energy and things that you can control like hustle and effort," Holmes said. "I can play with as much energy as I possibly can and let the rest of [my game] speak for itself. Being active around the rim, being able to catch and finish offensive rebounds...that's big time. I think in the NBA that's going to be a part of my role and my NBA career as well. I want to bring that every game."
Players, in any sport, come into professional environments with labels attached. Holmes isn't just an "energy guy;" hustle and effort fuel different aspects of his game. With a frame that plays at either the power forward or center position, Holmes couples his rugged build with ample amounts of energy to be useful in a plethora of areas.
It was essential for Holmes in his rookie season, having to bring a skill set that wouldn't be overshadowed by Jahlil Okafor, another rookie who played predominately at center, and Nerlens Noel. Holmes attempted to separate himself offensively from Okafor and Noel, able to space the floor as a stretch-4 or stretch-5. His 18.2 percent shooting clip from deep, on 44 attempts, was a product of hesitation and belief in his shot.
"I think it was more about confidence, shooting the NBA three," Holmes said. "It was about putting the work in to get my confidence up. Last year, I thought too much before I shot the ball and I tried to aim it. I just got to let it go. I'm a lot more confident this year and I'm ready to showcase what I can do."
Holmes shot just 1-of-9 from deep in Summer League, but another part of his game evidently blossomed. An area that highlights Holmes' potential as a shooter that can consistently sink jump shots is the free throw line. The charity stripe appears to be a baseline in order to gauge players' aptitude from shooting behind the arc if they have a generally small sample size of attempts.
Holmes' successful time knocking down freebies last season (68.9 percent) added to his production in a modest role, but he showed a heightened ability by sinking 30 out of 37 free throws (81.0 percent) in Summer League. Operating around the basket predominately on offense, Holmes naturally creates more foul opportunities.
"Setting the tone" on defense and protecting the rim are both important aspects for Holmes on the less glamorous end, but his teammates also appreciate Holmes serving as a fallback plan on defense.
"He's athletic, blocks shots and finishes everything," teammate James Webb III said. "I think he gets everyone going because you know you got help behind you and I think that it helps anyone who plays out [on both ends of the floor]."
Holmes' defense is partially focused on the combo big parlaying athleticism into rim protection, having the third highest block percentage (4.3 percent) out of rookie forwards/centers that played more than 500 minutes last season. In the Summer League, Holmes showed he could engulf shots (2.8 BPG) in an accentuated role on defense.
A product of coach Brown issuing a challenge to Holmes in the offseason, the second year talent exuded physicality on defense and many of his rejections were against NBA talent.
Holmes isn't seeking to assume the role of a shot blocker for the Sixers; he's attempting to diversify his defensive ability in the offseason to provide some versatility.
"Being able to slide my feet and go out there and guard point guards, it's a different dynamic you can bring to the team," Holmes said. "I look at the time Tristan Thompson switched out [on Golden State point guard Stephen Curry] in the Finals and how big of a dynamic that was for Cleveland. I think being able to bring that versatility from the 5 position will help my team tremendously."
Able to man either frontcourt position, Holmes gives Brown a versatile asset he can pair with another big in a small lineup. Being able to cover guards on the perimeter only adds to his upside. It's commendable that Holmes seeks to modify his tendencies and expand his role on defense, which, paired with his willingness to operate as a big who can space the floor, illustrates his motives.
While there's been drama centered around a possible, almost inevitable, Jahlil Okafor and/or Nerlens Noel trade, Holmes has been quietly putting together an impressive offseason. Along with a strong summer league, Holmes is embracing Brett Brown's tutelage and continuing to mold his frame.
As an energizing big off the bench, possessing both offensive upside (floor spacing, field-goal finishing) and defensive upside (adept rim protecting, versatility covering guards/forwards), Richaun Holmes has a legitimate role on an emerging Philadelphia 76ers team.