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.