Richaun Holmes Needs To Play a Big Role This Season

Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid is a genuine joy to watch play. Between the maturity he exhibits on offense, and the tenacity he displays on defense, Sixers fans have an endless supply of highlights that almost make up for the three years of painfully bad basketball. Peppered throughout those highlights are a handful of sphincter-tightening plays that suck the oxygen out of the room as the prized seven footer tosses his 250-pound frame (which currently looks north of 250 – lay off the shirley temples, Joel) around the court.

Whether due to a play like the one you just saw, or just Embiid rolling hard to the rim, enjoying Embiid’s play carries with it a side dish of paranoia that lurks at the end of every dunk, block or rebound.

The sad reality is that Embiid is currently fragile, and even without tragic injury, it is unlikely the Sixers ever get an 80-game season out of their star center. While there is no such thing as an Embiid insurance plan on the roster (the man is simply irreplaceable), the Sixers do need a competent big man backing up Joel at all times.

Maybe Vegan Jah is the answer; but my money is on Okafor not being on the team come season’s end.

Amir Johnson has never played more than 34% of his minutes in a season as a center, and last season saw 94% of them at power forward.

It would be interesting to see Dario Saric as a small-ball 5, but I suspect Brett Brown isn’t as intrigued by that possibility.

So who is Brown grooming to be that spot starter at center when Embiid needs rest?

Richaun Holmes should be that man.

Holmes projected as a power forward coming into the NBA, as he’s a bit undersized in terms of a traditional five. ( lists Holmes at 6’10”, but I’m not buying it. My eyes tell me closer to 6’8”.) But Brown used Homes almost exclusively at center last season, with 98% of Holmes’ minutes coming there. Last season, Holmes averaged 9.8 points on 55.8% shooting and 5.5 rebounds, with one block, in about 21 minutes played. Nothing eye-popping there. When extrapolated over 36 minutes, however, Holmes’ numbers are 16.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG and 1.3 SPG. It’s tough to tell whether he can efficiently match that production or exceed it, if given starter minutes. But on the surface, you would take that rate of production out of a starting center without many complaints.

Holmes compares favorably with other NBA starting centers. Take Miles Turner, for example, who was taken in the same draft as Holmes– 26 spots earlier. In NBA circles, Turner is considered a young, promising center. His per 36 numbers look like this:

As you can see, Holmes and Turner have similar production.

Holmes does have areas in which he’s lacking. As previously mentioned, he is smaller than a typical NBA center, and it seems to reveal itself in his rebounding totals. Less than 10 rebounds per 36 just isn’t going to cut it.

He also has a penchant for chasing down the flashy rejection, occasionally finding himself out of position on defense and allowing for a high conversion rate at the rim. However, he has demonstrated improvement across the board from his rookie year to his sophomore year.

Most importantly, his defensive rebounding rate jumped from 11.7% as a rookie to 20.1% in his second year; the latter is nowhere near the rebounding performance of a guy like DeAndre Jordan, but it is a significant increase.

Holmes hasn’t only improved on the defensive end.

The second-year big flashed the 3PT shooting ability scouts saw during his senior season at Bowling Green, when he shot 41.7% from behind the arc. His 35.1% this past season may be an optimistic expectation year in and year out, but his low 18.2% total as a rookie is likely attributable to adjusting to NBA 3PT line, not a lack of skill. If Holmes is closer to that second year percentage, I believe this is where much of his offensive value can be found. He is not the shooter Embiid is, but if he can prove to the other 29 NBA teams that they need to guard him outside of six feet, it’ll help primary ball-handler Ben Simmons adjust to being Embiid-less on the nights The Process needs off. As I (and many) have stated, the Simmons and Embiid pick-and-roll/pop could be one of the most deadly weapons in the NBA, and figures to be a frequently featured aspect of Brett Brown’s offensive sets.

We already know Holmes can finish at the rim in the pick-and-roll:

But if he’s a consistent pick-and-pop threat, even without a high volume of shots, it’ll keep the offense open and the defense honest. Without a reliable pick-and-roll partner, it could be very hard for Simmons to efficiently facilitate the offense.

It is worrisome for Holmes’ production that the frontcourt seems a bit crowded. NBA data analyst Eric Sidewater (@SixersScience) projects the minutes deployment to look like this:

Only six minutes for Holmes would really damage his development. And it is certainly possible that is exactly how Brett Brown envisions Holmes’ role. You don’t sign Amir Johnson for $11 million if you plan to let him ride the bench. But Johnson is likely only good for around 20 minutes per game at most, and is best suited at power forward. And Jahlil Okafor may not be long for this franchise. As may be the case with Dario Saric. *Ducks for shelter.* For Embiid rest games, I would like to see Holmes starting at center over anyone else.

If the Sixers are without Embiid for an extended period of time, it’ll be a major issue. Sixers fans would need to hold out hope that either the Lakers’ or Kings’ pick stays with the franchise in order to obtain a true Embiid insurance plan. But a major factor in keeping Embiid spry will be spelling him with healthy doses of proactive rest and, still, limiting his minutes. Brown will be more inclined to rest Embiid if the defensive dropoff isn’t from that of an elite rim protector to “somebody wake Jahlil Okafor up, the ball’s in play.” Richaun Holmes’ style of play is closer to Embiid than Okafor. If the offense doesn’t have to go through an overhaul every time Joel is out, maybe he’ll only have to play 60 games instead of 70. Maybe that extra game or two off each month will allow him to be 100% through a best-of-seven series in late April. And maybe instead of going .300 during Embiid’s absences, the Sixers will go .500. Everything revolves around the health of Embiid, and an effective Richaun Holmes could alleviate those concerns if continues to improve; as he has already done since his rookie season. But that only happens if he gets his fair share of minutes. The onus is on Brown to properly utilize his front court depth, and tap the potential of Holmes.

All stats via Basketball Reference.


15 Responses

  1. sorry Kevin, but i don’t think this is some big revelation. I think Richaun Holmes has established himself as Embiid’s back up since last winter when Okafor proved he is totally useless in the NBA, and Richaun showed that he actually improved after his rookie year.

    1. Simply not true. Embiid’s last game was January 27th. After that point, Jahlil Okafor played in 19 games, and started 17 of them, playing in his final game March 22nd. During that same span, the team started Holmes just 4 times. In the eyes of BB, Holmes hadn’t established himself as Embiid’s backup. I (and you) see it a different way, and I wrote about it.

      1. The Sixers were clearly trying to showcase Jah to drum up a trade market for him, and also had a quasi-tank going on (so you’d want to play Jah more because he blows).

        1. There is no drumming up Jah. If you know he’s not built for the modern NBA, so does every front office. If that is the Sixers MO, they’re being foolish. Whatever an NBA team might find appealing about Jah, they’ve already found.

          And to your tanking point, I would buy that if Holmes was a seasoned vet. Across the NBA, no matter who it is, young players do not contribute to winning basketball. That goes for players who end up MVP candidates, to role players. It didn’t matter if Holmes was starting, he wasn’t giving them any better of a chance to win last season than Jah was with the roster the way it was. What, McConnell/Stauskas/Cov/Saric/Holmes was going to add more wins? Ha. They could have started Simmons in there too, it wasn’t changing the fact that the team was bad and going to lose games and keep a high draft position because young players don’t win.

          They started Jah to see if they could get more out of him than what they had seen and to test him against starters, which is foolish. He is what he is, and doesn’t fit with this team. If they had concluded Holmes was the backup/spot-starter at center, they would have started him to give him better experience against starting caliber players. Therefore, they have yet to establish Holmes as the backup.

      2. idk if we “see it different”, i think we both agree Holmes should be the next guy at the 5 when Embiid is off the court, i just think this is a lot more obvious and i believe Brett Brown has already made a decision regarding this. And yeah while Okafor did get the starts once Embiid went out, he and Holmes were playing about the same minutes per game and finished pretty close to one another in mpg for the season. I also think Jah got those “starts” to try to instill some confidence in him since i think he was starting to feel out of his league in the NBA. Thanks for the response.

  2. I feel that Okafor should be a priority/reclamation project this season. He was too good in college to not be a decent player in NBA. Maybe his fellow Dukie, JJ Reddick can get him motivated. I mean, if he just plays a little “D”, then I think he can be a player. He can definitely score.

    1. sorry to say, but he stinks. He really wasn’t even that great in college either since that Duke team played much better when he was off the court. I kind of feel bad for the kid because he was almost set up to fail in the NBA. It seems like all he was taught growing up was 3-4 different post moves and nothing else. He has no concept of playing within an offense. I think it would have done him well to have gone to a team with some veteran players, but not sure how much impact it really would have had. The only role he will have in the NBA is being a back-up with some scoring ability against smaller 5’s, but will always be a letdown on defense.

  3. Roger, you are screwing up the game. You are sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. You are causing the NFL to lose fans like me. You might not need my blessing, but The NFL needs our money… PS: 6 games for Ezekiel Elliot? Wow, you have the juice

  4. His “is week 1 a must win?” topic the last couple days really chapped my fuqin azz. Lame sh!t. He’s been foaming out the mouth for football to get here, and that’s the best he has to offer? FOH…….

  5. Blount was one of the featured players talking about the run to and winning the Super Bowl. He was an awesome player last year. He reminds me of Lynch. If we got last year’s version of Blount this team would be unstoppable. He just carries players down the field heading toward the goal line. The Pats are a finely tuned machine. The show before it Do your job Part II interviewed the coaching staff. These guys work their ass off. Bill doesn’t miss a thing. Using plays from years ago that teams haven’t seen. It’s not just Brady. That team does everything right. Their GM charts plays and knows the game inside and out. It’s astonishing when compared to Howie.

    Actually do yourself a favor and not watch the shows. Your only going to get depressed.

  6. Boy oh Boy am I excited for Blizzcon and the StarCraft World Finals! Overwatch World Finals too?! AND Heroes World Finals?! OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG

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