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Sixers Tinder: Richaun Holmes escapes logjam with a defined role

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Richaun Holmes has developed into a legitimate, long-term backup for Joel Embiid.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

At multiple points this past season, 23-year-old Richaun Holmes struggled to find minutes in Brett Brown’s rotation; excessive clutter in the frontcourt did him no favors. Holmes didn’t make a stink about playing time during the trying period, and it made his late-season run much more enjoyable, as the big man was a professional throughout the process.

Holmes racked up 14 DNPs in 22 games prior to the All-Star break, but when Nerlens Noel was unceremoniously dealt at the trade deadline and Joel Embiid’s absence opened up minutes, Holmes capitalized on the opportunity. His season shifted course Feb. 24 against Washington—a 12-point, 10-rebound, five-block performance against the Wizards in 26 minutes signaled Holmes’ re-emergence.

Posting a 14.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG clip in March and a 13.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG mark in April, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound center thrived with the uptick in minutes and consistent playing time. It was a fitting reward, after laboring on the bench and inactivity put his Sixers future in jeopardy. Holmes initially spelled Jahlil Okafor, but his contributions on the second unit became difficult to ignore.

Okafor’s torn meniscus punctuated an underwhelming second season in the league, and Holmes looked more natural sharing the frontcourt with Dario Saric. That’s one of the many aspects Holmes provides over Okafor: synergy. A Holmes-Saric tandem caught teams off guard early in contests, and having a playmaking four complemented Holmes’ game.

Saric could probe with the ball or cut to the basket and Holmes would benefit from doubles on Saric. His two-man game with T.J. McConnell developed into consistent offense down the stretch for Brett Brown. In the pick-and-roll, McConnell regularly located Holmes for shots near the basket or for alley-oops. Whether it was Saric, McConnell, or the Sixers’ two guards, Holmes served as a viable P&R outlet.

Holmes’ 60.0 FG% in the P&R surpassed Embiid’s and Okafor’s mark in that category. Holmes’ FG% jumped to 55.8, from 51.4 percent last season, but he actually took a higher percentage of his attempts from past three feet. He didn’t just improve in the P&R, he actually boosted his shooting numbers on low post, mid-range, long-two’s and three-point attempts.

Brett Brown can utilize Holmes in high-ball screens, the P&R, as a rim-runner, or in the post and believe he’ll get points out of the possession. When Holmes leaked out to the perimeter on high-ball screens instead of rolling, centers would hesitate on closing out. More than 85 percent of his threes were wide-open (closest defender at six feet or farther). Teams could honor his stroke and close out, but that would open up driving lanes and Holmes serving as a playmaker in 5-on-4 situations.

While his uptick in numbers offensively is promising, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound center should spend the summer refining his defense. He’s blessed with physical tools that make him a threat on both ends of the floor, but Holmes can gaffe at times. Mistiming block attempts and leaving guys open by inexplicably doubling, Holmes gives other teams opportunities to score. However, his ability to switch in the P&R on the perimeter and be a lengthy problem for guards is huge for a backup big.

His recovery ability and foot speed defensively also speak to his athleticism on that end. At times, Holmes would poke the ball free on the perimeter (0.7 SPG) which led to transition opportunities. As Holmes progresses defensively, he’ll complement either Saric or whatever backup four Brown employs next to him.

You simply can’t feel comfortable, defensively, with Okafor spelling Embiid in the second unit. Also, Brett Brown already appears to have his future backup center in mind. In his exit interview last Monday, Brown alluded to Holmes being a key component in the team’s long-term plans.

Still on his rookie, team-friendly deal, Holmes won’t command a paycheck that represents his value until 2019. This upcoming season’s salary is non-guaranteed, but it would be management malpractice to bring in a veteran to back up Embiid. Holmes, arguably, has played his way into a meaningful role on this team. The early dose of adversity tested Holmes’ mettle, and there’s a proverbial “chip on his shoulder” that an incoming free agent might not have.

Embiid, Ben Simmons, Saric, and the remaining talent from first-round picks will be catalysts in the Sixers’ rebuild. However, Richaun Holmes also could be an integral piece as the team develops into contenders.

Poll

What would you do with Richaun Holmes?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Swipe Left (Opt for another backup to Embiid)
    (18 votes)
  • 73%
    Swipe Right (Holmes can serve as Embiid’s backup)
    (796 votes)
  • 24%
    Superlike (I start off my day thinking about Holmes’ potential)
    (264 votes)
1078 votes total Vote Now