Recently, Bryan Colangelo has touted the Sixers' front court logjam as an enviable situation. I happen to agree. As the NBA has transitioned into this aesthetically pleasing small ball era, I've long maintained that athleticism and size complimented by shooting will outlast even the greatest shooting teams in the world. Just look at last years Finals. With that in mind, there may not be a single better strategy for team building in the modern NBA than harboring several malleable, athletic freaks that are 6'10 or taller, can guard multiple positions and contribute in multiple facets offensively.
It's why the promise of Joel Embiid is so exponential. It's why Ben Simmons playing point guard is a matchup nightmare. It's why Nerlens Noel's defensive elasticity will assuredly earn him a max contract. It's why Dario Saric's worldly playmaking is, frankly, dope. It's also why a Sam Hinkie-led front office drafting Jahlil Okafor was downright befuddling (but that's a conversation for another blog post).
Embiid, Simmons, Noel and Saric rightly generate the surface excitement from Sixers fans and people around the NBA eager to watch them step towards competitiveness this season. And yet, there's another young, bouncy big man on the Sixers roster who also fits the prototypical modern mold for NBA big men in summer league darling Richaun Holmes, too. He shot 35.3 percent on 85 three-point attempts in college while his shot-blocking and elite finishing ability has already translated to the NBA. Holmes is still just 22—he'll turn 23 on Oct. 15—having only played two years of varsity basketball before college. There remains a well of untapped potential there. If you haven't already, I implore you to check out my SI.com profile on Holmes before the 2015 draft. His background is really intriguing.
Holmes' presence in Philly comes with three more years on a team friendly deal as well. The 37th overall pick a year ago, Holmes earned first-round money, but $1 million per season has become pennies under the new salary cap. And, his 2018-19 season is a team option; all of which makes Noel's recent public comments easier to stomach. Regardless your stance on the Noel/Okafor debate, when either is inevitably traded, the Sixers have another big man that will be able to excel in the modern structure of the league.
Take a look at these two player's career averages per 36 minutes.
PLAYER A: 14.7 points, 2.1 blocks, 1.7 assists, .103 WS/48
PLAYER B: 12.6 points, 2.0 blocks, 2.1 assists, .079 WS/48
Both of these players are high-flying finishers for the Sixers. Player A happens to be Holmes while Player B is Noel. It's entirely fair to say Holmes has been the more effective offensive player thus far. He's connected on 59.6 percent of two-point attempts compared to just 49 percent by Noel. Holmes has clearly been able to match Noel's highly regarded shot-blocking as well. But the element that's most promising is the assists. The Sixers coaching staff repeatedly has raved about Noel's passing ability for his size.
Holmes has already flashed the same passing potential, which has become crucial for present-day pick-and-roll bigs. The ability for a four or five to pass out of pick-and-rolls is that vital difference between a stretch-four and the newly coveted playmaking-four. Coupling a budding distributing ability with his scoring, Holmes could become a legitimate offensive weapon. He's already performed as an excellent pick and roll finisher, scoring 1.033 points per possession as a roll man compared to Noel's .936, per Synergy Sports. Al Horford can attest just how good Holmes can be diving towards the rim.
Let's take a deeper look at the shot-blocking as well. While Holmes has been just as effective a shot-blocker as Noel per-minute, he still has plenty to improve on. After all, Holmes averaged 4.7 fouls per 36 minutes last season, compared to Noel's career average of 3.4. Putting opponents on the line does not benefit your team's defense, and that stark gap between the two players likely factors into Noel's overall advantage defending the rim. He limited opponents to just 46.5% and .969 points per possession around the rim last season, per Synergy Sports, compared to Holmes' 51.3% and staggering 1.154 points per possession.
At just 6'10" with a 7'1" wingspan, Holmes will likely never be able to match Noel's rare defensive prowess he's already flashed in his young career. Few players in the league can protect the rim and switch out onto the perimeter to contain guards like Noel. That skill set gets you paid like Tristan Thompson. Even still, Holmes has provided enough evidence through one NBA season to inspire optimism. Sam Hinkie praised Holmes' potential in his 13-page resignation letter. Colangelo has frequently referenced him when discussing the Sixers' glut of centers. A potential trade might not just be deciding between Noel and Okafor. It may also clear the minutes for Holmes to come into his own.