Hope for Holmes: A Trade Chip or the Backup Center?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: Richaun Holmes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on before the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2022 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

For Richaun Holmes this season, he’s gone from being considered a supposed surplus value on the bench to a non-factor. Now, he’s trending back upward.

Over his last three games, his value in the eyes of other teams is being validated, but could the hopes that he can be an effective backup to Domantas Sabonis have a beating heart once again?

Though the longtime energy man was uncharacteristically invisible in the first handful of games when he had the backup center job, nobody else over the next six weeks could convincingly hold claim to the vital role. 

Which explains why the carousel stopped on big number-22 again, giving the longtime fan-favorite the opportunity to perhaps keep hope alive in terms of his place in Sacramento.

When Holmes got some early minutes two weeks ago in Toronto, he did not look impressive, but it seemed to confirm that the team understands his potential and ceiling is too high to not give him another shot at the role. And even if not for Sacramento, other teams—such as the Hornets or the Clippers—would surely be able to take notice that the center remains a viable option.

Against the Raptors, Holmes fouled twice in his three minutes of play, which has been an issue for him. One of the things that was demonstrated in that short load was that even as the rest of the guys were ironing out their ability to defend without fouling, Holmes was just not doing that. Instead of relying on positioning and verticality, Holmes often appeared frantic and frequently favored the use of his hands, making it easy to call fouls on him.

While his minutes in Toronto were in fact unimpressive, he flashed signs that he’s still more than solid in other departments. For one, he displayed he can be an efficient scorer when the ball is dumped off to him, which really never came into question as having gone anywhere. And two, that he has plus-talent at switching onto smaller players, forcing a turnover from the small, slippery Fred VanVleet.

Chimezie Metu’s stock as the backup 5 really took a hit in Toronto as he played outside himself and could not matchup adequately against similar size, but Holmes at least left open the possibility of improvement.

For the next game, Metu got minutes in the first half against the Pistons before Holmes took over the responsibility in the second half once again, offering three minutes of play with Sabonis resting. However, Holmes was not all that great in this one either, displaying poor defense; but at least he did not foul.

This lead to Neemias Queta’s opportunity in the games against Charlotte and the Lakers. Despite showing some promising signs on both ends of the floor—particularly against LA—Queta still appeared a bit of a long shot in terms of providing the necessary presence as the backup 5 for a team trying to contend for the playoffs in the west. Queta also fouled too much, showing a lack of discipline and a shortage of body fluidity as his awkward physical gaffs surfaced fairly often.

As is often noted here, maybe Queta can be an adequate reserve 5 in a year or two. Right now, the Kings can’t afford to let him develop in the NBA; he does not have the baseline skill for it, especially for a team trying to win.

The opportunity was surely to be kicked back to Holmes, and it was. The young big out of Portugal got a chance early in the Wizards game, but Mike Brown looked elsewhere for second half relief for Sabonis.

Like the Toronto and Detroit games, Holmes was getting the call in the third quarter. This time, he looked better.

Holmes exhibited his bad habit, fouling with the use of his hands, but what really stood out was the intent with which he played. He looked to be playing with a little more purpose. Watch him on this sequence, moving around and snagging an offensive rebound on effort alone. 

And even if the defensive performance was not overwhelmingly satisfactory, he showed positive indications of what he can do with a little more in-game comfort and rhythm. Here, he plays active and attentive one-on-one defense versus Porzingis before rotating to help with ready eyes; in other words, he played a valuable part in a defensive stop. 

In two games against the Nuggets—one with Sabonis out—Holmes took a definitive next step in illustrating his value, especially on the defensive end, which speaks volumes. 

When Holmes puts down a lob or hits his signature push shots this season, it feels like a given; it’s expected of him. But when his defensive effort looks earnest and vibrant, and when he limits some of his detrimental habits—like heavy use of his hands—it is a really good sign because it looked so terrible in October and November.

In the first of the back-to-back as the reserve behind Alex Len, he continued to look fully engaged and comfortable out on the floor, limiting the use of his hands by keeping them up, contributing to stops, and switching onto smaller players.

And with Sabonis back on Wednesday, it was all the better for him. 

With further strides, he looked like a savvy and active paint protector. Holmes was sprightly in transition, forcing a miss. The big man had a great straight-up-and-down contest that helped KZ Okpala swipe the shot attempt away. On another occasion, he had energetic attention, moving his body swiftly into position each time Denver moved the ball around; in doing so, Holmes knocked the ball out of DeAndre Jordan’s hands. He also used his hands the right way when switching onto the smaller Christian Braun; the rookie made the mistake of leaving the ball too exposed, allowing Sacramento’s big to poke it free for a steal.

Best of all, in an instance where he had to backpedal and offer a help contest on a driving Michael Porter Jr., Holmes did not foul and helped disrupt the shot. He had executed it perfectly after ostensibly being unable to do so for much of the season up until then.

So the stock has not dipped completely for the starter-worthy big man, and it is on the rise if anything.

Based on the performances against the Nuggets, it appeared Holmes was auditioning for other teams. Given he’s making $11.2 million a year as a backup—on a contract he signed with the outlook of being the starter for the coming years—it makes sense the Kings remain interested in moving him and that teams would want validation on Holmes’ value.

He did a nice job of that.

If the Kings could manage to move Holmes, it would make an acquisition of a guy like Nerlens Noel, or someone else, a lot more manageable, but it’s not entirely clear that this is the reality of the situation.

It could be that the center is more than ready to try and fulfill the role he was expected to fill ahead of the season. Holmes himself tried to impart that his early-season struggles were more mental than anything, giving little room to the idea that he wanted out, was dissatisfied with his role, or that he cared not for competing (which would be hard to believe from a guy who had to fight for every opportunity he got in this league).

“I think for the most part of the season, I’ve been overthinking a lot of stuff when I go out there,” he said after the first Denver game. “So I think just going out there and just playing the way I normally play and do the things I normally do, just to get myself in that rhythm, I think that’s kind of how I wanted to attack it and it’s how I want to attack the rest of the season.”

Then again, he never said anything about carrying on playing the way he’s used to here in Sacramento. It is sort of left open-ended for any team really. 

So who knows for sure?

All that is clear is that Richaun Holmes now—compared to a week or two ago—has hope revolving around him as his performances on the floor looks better and better.

Is he regaining attention as an attractive trade piece or is he sinking his feet into the backup 5 role for Mike Brown’s Kings?

Time will tell.

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Dan Smith
Dan Smith
29 days ago

Always liked RH a lot, it just sucks he hasn’t played like he used to. His role change to a backup was just a by product of acquiring Domas, so hope he doesn’t take the situation personally. He’d probably be happier somewhere else where he could start or at least play low 20s off the bench. I think 11mil is a lot regardless to pay a guy backing up Sabonis for 14 minutes a game. We could eventually use the cap room elsewhere in the off season…but always like Holmes as a person and his game.