It was difficult to pinpoint what exactly the reason was, but early into the season it was clear the perceived depth at the center position was not all that many thought it would be. Richaun Holmes was not only underwhelming, he really did not look like he belonged on the floor.
There were many instances where he looked lost offensively and hesitant defensively. His energy was missing, and there was little to no adjustment as each performance came off as equally languid each time.
Due to the lack of production, he lost his rotational spot. It took less than ten games.
Chimezie Metu in turn stepped up, earning a lot of praise for his ability to switch on defense early in the season and maintaining the role by providing additional energy alongside vitalizing guys like Malik Monk and Terence Davis.
Though not as well sized nor as strong as Holmes, Chimezie Metu was at least contributing to the punch the bench unit provided with his ability to run the floor and get up high for juice-boosting slams.
But Metu’s hold on the job, especially as an undeniably undersized 5, never seemed secure. In fact, as of late, his impact has been less palpable than a few weeks ago.
Because of that, Holmes has gotten some minutes over the last couple of games that were not in mop up time. In fact, in both Toronto and Detroit, Holmes was tapped as Domantas Sabonis’ second half relief over Metu.
He may not have done anything this season to show that he’s earned it, but there are three reasons why Richaun Holmes should be given another hard look as potentially serving as the reserve center.
1. It really can’t hurt
Over the last few games, the shortcomings of Chimezie Metu in terms of being a nightly backup 5 began to make themselves clear.
He was a non-factor in New York, undersized in Philadelphia, -13 in Toronto, and played outside of himself in Detroit.
As noted before, Metu has a place in the league as an athletic, above the rim big off the bench, which gives him all the characteristics of an energizer despite the fact he creates nothing on his own. When the bench provides spurts and stretches of high intensity play, Metu fits right into it.
But when things are slowed down, when the opponents are larger, and when the ball movement is being limited, Metu ends up being the guy that’s just sort of there. He’ll set screens and put in effort on the glass, but he has a skillset that works in specific scenarios against specific matchups.
As a more efficient scorer who does not have a proclivity for taking overly ambitious shot attempts, it’s hard to imagine Holmes would be any worse. He may end up providing about as much, but it feels like he’s less prone to do something that hurts the team.
Looking at the other end, Holmes may not be any better at defending inside and around the rim—unlike Sabonis and, to a lesser extent, Metu, Holmes displays little fundamental understanding of making shots more difficult through textbook positioning and verticality—and he may be slightly less versatile than Mezie, but he provides better strength, feel, and instincts.
And overall, a lot of Metu’s strengths—mobility, the ability to throw down lobs—are things Holmes is able to provide.
Holmes just has to prove he can bring it all to the table.
The backup 5 is by far the biggest uncertainty regarding this Kings team at the moment. Given the way Metu’s played of late, it really can’t hurt to give Holmes a hard look to see if he can step up into the role. His ceiling is higher anyway.
2. Outside help could be a while
With the matter surrounding the backup to Sabonis, the Kings have been connected to guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Mo Bamba, and Nerlens Noel to varying degrees of seriousness.
The idea of a Cousins reunion sounded unrealistic because it was. While he was good in Denver’s second unit late last year and would appear to provide a skillset that is somewhat similar to that of Domas’, there was little in the way of actually believing it’d happen.
For one, 29 other teams passed on the 32 year-old center while he and Sacramento’s ownership do not have the rosiest of history. And one can’t lose sight of the fact people were probably more enamored by the romanticism of a reunion than anything else. Moreover, the only smoke on this potential move was generated by Cousins himself, who simply tweeted he’d “love” to play a part in breaking Sacramento’s playoff drought.
On the other hand, Mo Bamba has a current place in the league and has promise at 24 years-old. As Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus has surmised, “it appears” Orlando—who drafted fellow big Paolo Banchero number-one overall in June—gave Bamba another contract in order to trade him.
Bamba has good size and length that allows him to block shots and he’s shooting 39.1% from three after 38.1% a season ago.
However, when one thinks of the bad side of Bamba, it does not mesh with Mike Brown’s culture. Watch Orlando’s big and it’s easy to see his talent, but read about him and realize he’s been described by scouts as lacking defensive instincts and being a low-motor guy.
Nevertheless, Bamba could possibly be helpful now and down the road, but the idea he was signed in order to be traded is still more speculation than anything. Plus, what would a trade look like since the center’s making $10.3 million?
Any deal bringing him to Sac would probably require multiple teams and come closer to the deadline.
Maybe more realistic is Nerlens Noel, who mutually agrees with the Pistons that a trade is best and who the Kings have expressed interest in. The former sixth overall pick ended up in Detroit as part of a salary dump.
Noel is not the same player he was two seasons ago, but he would still be a plus defender and offer a nice mix of size and athleticism.
He does make sense and Detroit does not appear to be looking for immense value in return—so long as they don’t take on any money beyond this season—so there feels like a chance.
But again, any trade for Noel may take another month or two. The center is making $9.2 million, so any attempt to acquire him will likely require a bigger exchange that is more prone to happen around the February trade deadline.
Sacramento could very well add a backup 5 from the outside, but that may take a little bit more time.
3. Sabonis needs it
Domantas Sabonis is an all-star and an elite big man. It’s vital to keep it that way.
Thinking about Metu’s shortcomings over the road trip, one of the residual effects was that Sabonis had to undertake an added load of minutes.
Averaging just over 33 minutes on the season and less than 35 since the 2019-20 season, Sabonis has averaged 37.5 minutes over the last four games. Three of those four games required Domas to play 39 or more.
There’s no doubt it was a tough road trip that called for Sacramento’s dynamic big man to step up in terms of minutes load. That happens. But at the same time, it’s hard denying the fact that the lack of an adequate backup 5 adds to that surplus load.
In the final game of the six-game roadie in Detroit, Metu played such that Sabonis was forced to play all twelve minutes of the second period.
Domas was given his rest at the typical interval near the end of the first quarter, but Metu’s wonky offensive decisions and poor defense did not generate a productive difference in four minutes of play.
It’s a hard ask to have someone provide anything close to an identical presence as Sabonis offers, but there has to be at least some presence.
Playing close to 40 minutes a game is obviously not sustainable for the Kings’ star big, who already does so much for his team on both ends of the floor. A true and trustworthy backup would help immensely.
Knowing Metu can’t be that guy every single night, Holmes deserves another shot.
This, as many can tell, is not the most optimistic appeal for Richaun Holmes.
He’s done a lot of great things since coming to Sacramento and became a fan favorite for good reason, but the fantasies of the summer—that mused how dynamic a center duo the Kings would have given two starter-caliber players were atop that positional grouping—do not appear as though they will fully come to fruition.
Still, compared to the rest of the roster personnel, Holmes can be a lot better in terms of checking the necessary boxes as the primary reserve 5.
And considering Metu still has acute value in this league, opponent matchups could come into play.
In other words, even if it’s not certain Holmes can be the backup center that consistently gives Mike Brown thirteen to fifteen adequate minutes a game in relief of Sabonis, a possible platoon could make a considerable difference.
Who knows for sure, though?
It will be interesting to watch how this situation continues to develop as this six-game home stand begins.