Knowing what you know now, perhaps you look back and classify the extraordinary acquisition of a big man in 2019 as the signing of Richaun Holmes. Here in 2021, you have a plethora of reasons for thinking that way. However, as history reminds us, the circumstances were quite different. At the time, the addition of stretch-five Dewayne Dedmon was widely seen as an excellent complement to Marvin Bagley. On the other hand, the signing of Holmes to a 2-year $9.7M deal was merely viewed as a solid fill-in on the roster, void of much expectation.
Truthfully, at the time of those acquisitions, if anyone were to claim that Holmes would be Sacramento’s unquestioned starting center, a fan favorite, the league leader in field goal percentage, and earning key minutes for Walton in 2021, one would claim it to be foolishly optimistic.
However, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Early in the 2019-20 season, when Dedmon had been struggling while Holmes was providing a much needed spark of energy on the court, Walton made the decision to replace the veteran with Holmes in the starting lineup. Since then, Holmes has been starting at the five and Walton has never had to look back.
While more of a role player during his time in Philadelphia and Phoenix, Holmes has found his place in California’s capital and is excelling in every facet of his game.[table “46” not found /]
Even more than a continuous boost in performance, Holmes proves to be a rare entity in the NBA: a perfect fit for a place like Sacramento. In stark contrast to Dedmon’s brief tenure in Sacramento plus his vocalized dissatisfaction and trade request, Holmes has embraced the city with open arms.
Now, in a contract year, the Kings will have to make the decision to either keep Holmes or trade him before he walks for nothing in return.
After establishing himself as a vital piece on the team both in scheme and spirit, Holmes’ contract will definitely and deservedly be a heavier payload than the first one he signed. Nevertheless, the front office needs to keep Holmes in Sacramento.
First thing’s first, Holmes’ physical attributes and attitude fit perfectly into this team’s lineup, game plan, and setting.
Even at 6’10”, 235 pounds and equipped with a 7’1.5″ wingspan, the big man has the zeal and endurance to keep up alongside De’Aaron Fox and company, who make a good living outrunning their opponents on the court. He is a luxury to the Kings: Holmes is able to wrestle with and defend large bodies at one moment, and at another, get running like a stallion on a fast break.
Furthermore, Holmes lacks neither heart nor hustle, and it’s this reason that makes him such a great asset. It also contrasts the minimal downsides of versatility: he may have a wide array of strengths, but he is never the biggest, strongest, or fastest. Heart and hustle, though, bind his skills together and propel him to compete with or beyond the game’s best big men.
With the franchise being built around Fox and, now, Tyrese Haliburton, a center with these physical attributes and hustle is the perfect addition to two speedy cornerstones in the project of constructing a championship contender.
But this is not an example of team-dependent success: Holmes is not exclusively a true asset for the Kings, but rather for any team in the league. What makes his value so universal is his heart and hustle, and it also happens to be exactly what transformed Holmes from a basic rotational player to a starting center in the league.
Holmes’ sprightly, invigorating effort, has created an undeniably special endearment between the player and the town he plays for. In fact, Sacramento loves Holmes so much that he can’t help but return the love. Indeed, Holmes and Sacramento have such a great relationship that the center has made it known that he wants to stay around Sac for a long time:
“I absolutely love Sacramento. This community, this city, these fans — have shown me, in my short time here, that I really couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else. I would love to play here the rest of my career. I love to play in front of these fans, be a part of this community — this is a great place to be and I’d love just to be a part of it.”
Now, when someone of Holmes’ caliber wants to stay in Sacramento, then you quite simply keep him in Sacramento. Frankly, it’s a rare sight for someone to desire and succeed at fitting into Sacramento, and Holmes may be the Cow Town’s glass slipper.
The unique fit is made even more perfect by his actual play on the court, which has shown Holmes to be one of Sacramento’s best players on both the defensive and offensive end of the basketball. He is currently leading the team in defensive rating and offensive rating and is the only player on the roster with a positive +\-.
On defense, Holmes is not shy about matching up with some of the best bigs in the game. He can hold his own on the block and has proven to be an above-average rim protector.
— Leo Beas (@beasleo) October 29, 2019
He is holding his opponents to less than 50% shooting on the year while also averaging 1.7 blocks per game. As is characteristic with Holmes, he knows how and when to kick it up a notch, proving time and time again to make stops or swat balls away in key situations.
What a block by Holmes 😱 pic.twitter.com/duIIOfPcu3
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) January 12, 2021
Even on pick and roll switches, when Holmes has to defend guards at the perimeter, he holds his own. Under those circumstances, his opponents are making only 1.5 threes on 4.1 attempts per contest, and are held to 38% shooting from beyond 15 feet.
This is better defense than anyone could have reasonably expected Richaun Holmes to play in this situation. He's been absolutely incredible all year, in every way. pic.twitter.com/C27eSlDDfv
— Richard Ivanowski (@ivanowskinba) December 12, 2019
On the offensive side of the basketball, Holmes has been brilliant, and the brilliance is blooming. Last season’s breakout has carried over to this year, and Holmes looks to only get better.
Holmes’ production could not be more efficient. Averaging 13.3 points a game, he is currently first in the NBA in field goal percentage, making 67.7% of his looks while also converting 84.4% of his free throws.
Despite having his fair share of dunks, the thing about Holmes’ high shooting percentage that pops out at you is that he is shooting his two-point jump shot at an astounding 76% clip. This is all thanks to his patented push shot that has essentially become automatic.
Holmes is not confined to just easy dunks and wide-open shot opportunities, though, and like anyone else, he has to work for his baskets.
He can work in the post with a jump hook or finish strong around the rim while simultaneously being in a great position to battle on the offensive glass. Holmes never backs down with the ball under a crowded basket and always goes back up with a strong take to either make the bucket, get to the foul line, or both.
— Cap City Crown (@CapCityCrown1) January 22, 2021
With his high shooting efficiency and sturdy frame, Richaun Holmes makes the perfect pick and roll partner. After setting a strong pick, Holmes can either roll to the basket to finish strong at the rim or, with the luxury of his push shot, fade to the free throw line. After fading to the free throw line, the defender is stuck with the dilemma of following Holmes there or leaving him open.
This Haliburton-Holmes pick-and-roll is too nice pic.twitter.com/SnhYAkuUuo
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) January 16, 2021
Then, the defense adjusts by having the big stay higher in drop coverage. Haliburton first fakes a pass to Holmes but the defense isn't fooled. So then he just engaged the big himself, taking the big out of the play before dumping it off to Holmes. Dunk. pic.twitter.com/Oygvn8AFrJ
— The Kings Herald (@thekingsherald) January 7, 2021
As a result, and having the option of either taking it to the basket or dishing it to the big man for the high percentage look based on the defender’s decision, this gives the ball handler the opportunity to simply read that defender.
First play out of the timeout the Kings ran a high pick-and-roll for Haliburton, who gets Holmes a look at his little pet one-handed floater against a deep dropping Jokic. pic.twitter.com/dzXJAFTeVk
— The Kings Herald (@thekingsherald) December 31, 2020
Even with a league-leading field goal percentage, Holmes continues to work on his offensive game. With how effective his push shot and free throw shooting are, Holmes is free to incrementally take his game further from the rim when needed.
He’s already knocked down a few tough deep jumpers and continues to work on that aspect of his game.
it's the range, for us 💦 pic.twitter.com/B7WlWGOAZ5
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) January 12, 2021
Although he was a 25% 3 point shooter in Philadelphia, he only averaged one attempt per game from deep. So, considering his jumper will only continue to improve over time, taking more shots from outside the arc may be in Holmes’ future.
And of course, as is natural to any effective big man, Holmes’ work on the glass is above average on both ends. Grabbing a team best 2.6 offensive rebounds per game, which puts him at 19th in the league, while also coming down with 5.3 boards a game on defense. Altogether, Holmes is averaging 7.9 rebounds a game, and while that’s slightly down from his 8.1 a game last year, it is likely to rise as the season progresses.
After outperforming expectations last year and continuing his ascent this year, it is imperative that the Kings re-sign Richaun Holmes when his contract expires this upcoming offseason. On a team with a roster filled with what feels like so many expendable pieces, Holmes is one of the few who is never brought up in trade talks, part of any controversy, or regarded with any distaste.
He’s an above average defender and scorer while also not being afraid to do the dirty work like run with the guards, fight on the offensive glass, set picks, and hustle every second he’s in the game. But more than that and above all, Holmes is the heart and soul of this team, through which the team’s energy is generated.
Earlier this month, Bleacher Report ranked Holmes as the most under-appreciated player in the NBA:
“Holmes is critical to the best versions of Sacramento. If floor-spacing 5s are the most valuable offensive bigs, he’s the next best thing.”
He is truly a special player for the organization, willing and capable of doing what it takes to help the team. Even though wins have been few and far between during his short time in Sacramento, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t made the team better.
At age 27, Holmes is arguably just entering the prime of his career and his numbers back the notion. With several more years of solid productivity in Holmes’ future, the front office would be fools not to sign what has been their most consistent player.
One would be hard pressed to indicate one good reason why Sacramento shouldn’t dish out the money for him this offseason. Sure, he will definitely come at a higher price than his first contract, but with his love for the city, there is a distinct possibility that maximum profit may not be a driving force behind his side of the negotiations.
Even if it requires a full-price pursuit, it’s hard to imagine Holmes making anything more than $15M a year, even if he keeps up his early season productivity throughout the rest of the year.
With what may end up being a revamped roster following next offseason—if the team continues losing at their current rate—Holmes needs to be in the locker room to set the tone for any newcomers. His effort levels are unmatched and his connection to Sacramento is admirable. He is a leader by example, more than capable of invigorating the Kings’ culture through his strong play and work ethic.
Holmes has been great for the Kings since arriving in Sacramento in 2019. He’s made it his job to give it his all on a nightly basis, on both offense and defense. He’s given his love to the city and organization, and when free agency rolls around this summer, the Kings should reciprocate with a nice contract to keep him in Sacramento, in the place he wants to be.