Many Sixers fans have a soft spot in their hearts for players from the Process era. Every draft pick and undrafted free agent signed to the roster provided hope. Hope that their very raw but identifiable skill set would blossom into a valuable rotational piece, maybe even a starter or All-Star. One of those players was Richaun Holmes. Holmes, a big drafted 37th overall in 2015 by Sam Hinkie, was thrown into a crowded situation. Already on the Sixers’ roster were centers Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor (who was selected 34 picks before Holmes). As far as opportunities go, Holmes was at the bottom of the totem pole. But here we sit in 2019: while the Sixers moved on from Holmes with Embiid established as the franchise centerpiece, Holmes is providing some of the most valuable play of any of the Process centers excluding Embiid.
Across three seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers (‘15-’16 to ‘17-’18), Richaun Holmes played in 156 games for a total of 2,641 minutes averaging 7.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 1.3 stocks per game (per-36: 15.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.8 stocks). A rim-running lob threat, Holmes shot 60.9% from the floor and 25.7% from three on pretty limited attempts. Richaun’s best season as a Sixer was his sophomore campaign, when he played in 57 games (starting 17), splitting time with Joel Embiid who was being brought along slowly, and averaged 16.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per-36. He also showed some progress in adding stretch elements to his game that season, shooting 35.1% on relatively high 77 attempts from three.
Unfortunately for Holmes, after his season of growth, 2017-’18 brought regression as Joel Embiid was ready to become a full-time player, burying Holmes’ opportunities. He went from playing over 20 minutes per game back down to about 15. Not only was Embiid’s presence overbearing, but Holmes had a habit of landing himself in Brett Brown’s dog house. Holmes looked to make emphatic plays and his block chasing on defense would often give way to fundamental breakdowns in the defense. Recently added veteran Amir Johnson became the primary backup to Embiid. And the budding versatility Holmes previously displayed seemed to be disappearing, with a career low 31 threes attempted.
In the summer of 2018, the Sixers exercised Holmes’ fourth-year option, but things weren’t gravy between the two parties. Holmes, an older player by rookie-contract standards, wanted more opportunity as he approached the final year of his rookie contract. The Sixers were justifiably much more concerned with Joel Embiid and making the playoffs than spending resources on developing Richaun Holmes. Seven days after Holmes’ option was picked up by the Sixers, Philly found a trade partner for Holmes in the Phoenix Suns.
With the Phoenix Suns, a rebuilding franchise, Holmes got his shot. While his minutes hovered just under 17 per game in 2018-’19, he played in a career high 70 games. He also set career highs in eFG% (60.8%), FTA/gm (2.5), and FT% (73.1%). Richaun seemingly ditched any desire to become a stretch five (0 3PA all season), but that was for the better. He began playing much more within himself. Most importantly, the Suns’ team defense was undeniably better with Richaun on the floor than off.
Despite impressive growth, Holmes and the Suns did not prioritize an agreement to keep Richaun in Phoenix this past summer. Instead, Holmes signed with the up-and-coming Sacramento Kings. So far, that appears to have been the most beneficial development to Holmes’ NBA career.
This season with the Kings, Holmes has started in the team’s last 12 games, only coming off the bench for the first four games of the season. He’s playing far and away the most minutes of his career, averaging just about 30 minutes per game since becoming the starter. He’s got career highs in many of his traditional numbers: points (11.4), rebounds (8.1), stocks (1.8), FGM & FGA (4.9/7.4). And his advanced metrics are nothing short of eye-popping. According to Cleaning The Glass, the Kings are a whopping 17.9 points per 100 possessions better with Holmes on the court than off — that number ranks in the 96th percentile among centers (for comparison, Embiid is at +13.4). He’s scoring with proficiency, getting his eFG% up to 66.1% on the season and his points per shot attempt is at a ridiculous 1.362 (Cleaning The Glass).
After getting off to a rough start, the Kings have rebounded to pull into 9th place, just a game behind the Phoenix Suns. Their 7-5 turnaround after an 0-4 start coincided with Holmes’ addition to the starting lineup. His play this season has been incredibly impactful and it’s powered the Kings to save what was initally looking like a disappointing season.
The Kings will look to continue their surge this evening against the Sixers. It won’t be Richaun’s first game against the team that drafted him, but it certainly will be a different environment than before. Holmes is now a legitimate starter playing a crucial role for his team and he’s been damn good at it. It’s going to be an exciting matchup when he and Joel Embiid face off this evening in the Wells Fargo Center.