Playing Domantas Sabonis and Richaun Holmes

The Kings have had a nice offseason and put together one of the better teams on paper in recent memory, but at the same time, if they’ve been consistent at anything for the last 16 years, it’s losing. 

In other words, here at the beginning of August, it’s simply impossible to say how the Kings will look next season. 

However, because it’s hard to resist, people definitely have their ideas. And part of formulating a sober prediction for the upcoming season comes from taking a closer look at how this roster will be utilized.

Mike Brown will have some interesting lineups to play with this year with Sacramento. Of course, with the talent around the perimeter, there’s much to consider regarding how the different pairings in the backcourt will look and work. But how the bigs on the roster are utilized will be interesting, too.

One of the primary reasons for that is the fact that Richaun Holmes remains on the team and looks to have a chance to play considerable minutes in the rotation. 

The acquisition of Domantas Sabonis seemed to transform Holmes from starting center to the odd man out. Having just signed a deal to stay in Sacramento that could have probably commanded more money, the loss of his starting role—on top of a frustrating season riddled with missed time—seemed like the big man was on the way out. 

It was not a question of his willingness to stay in Sacramento as much as it was a question of whether his price tag was worth a role off the bench.

As free agency started, it was becoming clear that moving Holmes may not be in the cards. Matt George noted the lack of interest on the trade market as well as Brown’s fondness of the big man as reasons for him staying put.

Given the head coach’s admiration of Holmes, it’s not hard to imagine how he could be incorporated into the rotation. In terms of a second unit, if Holmes can produce as a backup center, he could be one of the best reserve 5’s in the league. Alongside Trey Lyles, who can space the floor, the second unit’s ability to produce is also, as a whole, promising.

More than that, though, it’s worth thinking about Holmes and Sabonis playing alongside each other at times.

James Ham touched upon the thought this week when analyzing how some players can make an impact on Sacramento’s defense. “There is potential for Brown to use Holmes and Sabonis together for stretches this season,” he wrote.

For a moment, it seemed so easy to write off Holmes as heading out the door, but with his place being solidified on the Kings, it’s fascinating to think how the two starting-caliber centers could play on the floor together at different points, depending on matchups, situations, and/or injuries.

Defensively

This was the end of the floor that caused Ham to allude to the idea of Sabonis and Holmes playing side by side. 

This team will be coached by the same Mike Brown who was the lead architect for the Warriors’ defense last season, and Ham sees a similar use for Holmes that’s reminiscent of last year in Golden State.

“Part of [Brown’s] design was to use two defensive-minded big men in Draymond Green and Kevon Looney side-by-side, despite neither having the ability to space the floor on the defensive side of the ball,” he observed.

It’s unlikely that Ham was thinking that Holmes-Sabonis is as good defensively as Green-Looney is, but there are comparable factors. So much so that if an emphasis needs to be placed in defending the paint or the opponent’s 4 and 5 in a particular game or matchup, there could be a decent dose of those two.

Holmes has shown he can be a really talented defender in the previous two seasons prior to last year. 

One of the immediate things that is noticeable about Richaun Holmes is his athleticism and energy, and while that translates to being a great spark of energy for the offense, it also makes him a versatile defender for a big because he can switch out on different positions.

That pairs nicely with Sabonis, who does not switch out as well as the other. Honestly, Sabonis isn’t considered a great defender by any means, but he might be a tad underestimated having played only 15 games for Sacramento. One of the things he does pretty competently is defend the paint without being regarded as a rim protector by any means.

Sacramento was allowing less points in the paint with Sabonis commanding the bulk of minutes at center down the stretch last season. 

Prior to the February trade, the Kings were surrendering 52.4 paint points per game, which ranked last in the league at that point in the year. In the stretch between Sabonis’ first game against Minnesota and his last game played in Phoenix, the team was only allowing 49.1 paint points, which is good for 15th in that timeframe.

Other players can be credited with that improvement as well, but Sabonis was making a difference. He may not be physically gifted defensively, but he puts himself in excellent position and secures stops by grabbing rebounds. 

When in Indiana, one of the problems for the Myles Turner and Sabonis combination was that Turner’s exceptional presence as a defensive anchor at the 5 forced Sabonis to play the 4. While that did make for an impressive offensive combination, Sabonis’ shortcomings in quickness prevented him from guarding the modern 4 position. Holmes may have averaged 1.6 blocks a few years ago, but his athleticism and ability to switch out makes him a viable option to put on many 4’s, but probably only in a matchup where size bigger than Harrison Barnes or Keegan Murray is necessary.

If needed, playing Holmes’ athleticism and defensive versatility alongside Sabonis’ awareness and positioning could form an imposing duo of defensive big men.

Offensively

The questions offensively for Sabonis and Holmes playing together could be tricky because its potential success might very well be contingent on three-point shooting. 

It’s evident that Sabonis is an excellent facilitator and low post scorer, and equally so that Holmes is an efficient (with a capital-E) paint scorer.

However, as Ham wrote, seeing Sabonis and Holmes together may be likely, but it’ll be especially so “if one of them can hit 3-point shots on the offensive.”

If one or both of them can effectively stretch the floor, then the pairing would be seen a lot. The likelihood of the two of them doing so may not be very high, but for just one of them becoming a guy that defense’s have to stay honest about on the perimeter, it is not out of the question.

Both have individual factors that make such an emergence in deep range shooting possible.

For one, Sabonis has averaged two or more three-point attempts per game in the previous two seasons. He’s only hitting it at a 31.7% clip in that time—and 31.9% in his career—but there are plenty of moments where open looks come his way, and that should continue to be the case.

Footage has spread around this offseason of Sabonis working on his deep shot with the highly respected Chris Matthews, better known by his moniker Lethal Shooter. It seems the central area of alteration is he’s adding more arc to his shot, which is promising for a guy who’s three’s often look flat.

As has been fairly pointed out, the said footage could end up being nothing more than hype tape, and Sabonis could shoot around 30% from three this upcoming year. 

It remains to be seen.

Same can be said for any possibility of three-point growth for Holmes, who in his time with Philadelphia actually shot a fair amount of deep balls. In 2016-17, Holmes shot 35.1% from three on 1.4 attempts per game. 

Again, who knows if he can get back to that and build off of it?

Aside from that lone year of decent shooting, he could never replicate it. And the opportunity to shoot them did not follow him to Phoenix or Sacramento, at least at first. In his one year with the Suns and first season in Sac, he didn’t shoot a single three. He shot 2 of 11 from deep in his second season with the Kings, and last year he hit just 2 of 5, including one on opening night against Portland.

It may not sound promising, but his frustrating season this past year may have disrupted what could have been growth in that department. After all, he’s long expressed how he has been intending to develop that part of his game to be considered a threat if left alone. 

It’s hard to imagine he’s stopped working on that, and a less rocky season may provide the chance to follow through. But it’s also hard to imagine he becomes anything more than some version of that lone 35% year in Philadelphia, and even that might be optimistic.

The more promising shot is Sabonis, but it might be better if it were Holmes. Sabonis commands double teams whenever he has the ball anywhere near and around the paint. If Holmes can’t keep defenses honest, then he’ll be left alone if he moves out to the perimeter.

Of course, Holmes could be very effective at slashing and cutting given his explosiveness and his propensity for high-energy dunks. But that can be said about a lot of guys, so that may not force the hand on playing he and Sabonis together

Three-point shooting is the main factor, and in a way, all it takes is one. If just one of them—particularly Holmes—can force defenses to be honest, then that becomes a dynamic coupling at the 4 and 5. 

In a nutshell

The idea of Sabonis and Holmes playing together on the floor is interesting to think about and might just be inevitable. The defensive dynamic being a sort of inverse of the Turner-Sabonis era in Indiana may make it more frequent than not. 

Offensively, again, it gets interesting. Sabonis probably has the better chance of being an effective three-point shooter because he may have less work to do, but it would probably work better the other way around. 

Either way, it’s in no way certain. If neither are capable of hitting the deep ball, the usage of the two of them together may not be called upon with the depth of shooting elsewhere on the team, namely looking at the forwards in Barnes, Murray, Lyles, and even Metu.

Even without outside shooting, there’s room for them to remain productive on that end, likely with three-point shooters, perhaps guards, out on the perimeter.

Overall, playing both of them on the floor together will be something that has plenty to prove before it’s put to heavy use, especially offensively. But if everything can go right, Sabonis and Holmes could really shift various games in multiple ways.

And if it isn’t viable, there are plenty of other lineups and combinations to explore. 

This one just happens to remain intriguing, especially in early August.

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[…] [ August 2, 2022 ] Playing Domantas Sabonis and Richaun Holmes Basketball […]