One of the most joyous parts about the NBA is when the talents and vibes of a player converge. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has it. Jaylen Brown has it. DeMar DeRozan has it. And among some of the less-heralded candidates, Richaun Holmes has it.
The dude simply emanates groove and goodness; to watch him is to gravitate toward his inviting persona. Donning dual-arm sleeves, a ponytail, and a thick headband, he dunks everything and revels in each slam. His perception of on-court events is not complicated to discern. A mere glance at his face easily translates his emotions for the audience. Jubilance, shock, frustration, disappointment — they all are on display.
Basketball is fun and provocative. Holmes treats the game as such.
He also treats the game with an outcome that doles out winners and losers because the 28-year-old is a darn good center. How he only earned a four-year, $46.5 million contract this past summer following consecutive superb seasons is mystifying and a ridiculous underpay. Despite a pay raise that more than doubled his previous salary, he’s only the NBA’s 124th-highest paid player. That’s absurd for someone of his ilk.
Here’s an amusing and somewhat worthwhile tidbit. The only centers to rank among the top 40 in Estimated Plus-Minus each of the last three seasons (including this one) are Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Holmes. So, at least one metric deems Holmes’ impact outmatched by a select number of centers, all of whom are MVP or All-NBA candidates.
While Holmes is certainly not on that level, through a month of 2021-22, he’s playing like a man sitting just on the fringe of All-Star consideration. If the teams were cast now, he would not make it, though he’d be deserving of inclusion on an initial list set to be whittled down. The seventh-year big man is averaging 13.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks. His preposterous 71.2 percent true shooting is second behind Gobert among eligible players.
Few are more effective and voluminous ball-screen partners than Holmes. According to Synergy, he’s one of 13 players to register 45+ possessions as a roller this season, and his 1.178 points per possession (PPP) rank seventh. Last season, his 1.301 PPP ranked fifth among 38 players with 200+ possessions. In particular, he and Tyrese Haliburton have fostered exceptional camaraderie in the pick-and-roll.
Holmes is both a dominant finisher (85th percentile around the basket, per Synergy) and touts a feathery floater that’s stuck on automatic these days (93rd percentile on runners). He knows how to slyly function in space as an off-ball scorer, has a sprawling catch radius and relies on soft hands to snare feeds. Rescreens and space-carving picks are present in his arsenal.
Although he’s not a routine self-creator, he keeps a little turn-and-hook badge in his pocket and has cooked a few bigs off the bounce as a face-up scorer. His touch and body control are distinguished. Despite rarely taking triples or free throws, he’s registered a 67.8 percent true shooting on more than 1,000 field goal attempts since 2019-20. He’s always spinning jackpots on the slot machines in the paint.
His role is narrow, but that does not mean simple. If everyone could finish from 15 feet and in like him, his efficiency and production would not be uncommon. But succeeding to the degree he does as a screen-and-roll big who’s hardly tasked with creation has considerable merits. He eases the burden of ball-handlers because they know there’s always a premier release valve inside if a pass is available. That sort of option is partly why Sacramento has fielded a top-12 offense each of the last two years. If initiators can create a paint touch, bountiful results are a likelihood.
Holmes also moonlights as a janitor for the Kings. Per Cleaning The Glass, he’s in the 74th percentile or better in both offensive (74th) and defensive rebounding (83rd) this season. The former is a lane to easy points and he amplifies those chances with shrewd timing and effortless bounce. He’s often gobbling up boards and jamming home putbacks via errant shots.
What’s perhaps been most impressive about his campaign thus far — if anything is to outdo the true shooting — is the defense. He’s executing tremendous pick-and-roll coverage and has been a hyperactive playmaker and interior anchor. Sometimes, he’ll operate in standard drop defense against ball-screen actions. Other times, he’ll creep toward the level of the screen. All the time, he’s showcasing active hands, mobility, and pristine technique.
His motor has rarely needed a break to recharge either. If there is a play to be made, Holmes will try to accomplish it. His odometer might reset midway through the season at this rate. He’s just playing with so much energy, it’s translated into high-level impact. Not much is positive about the Kings’ 24th-ranked defense, but Holmes’ performance assuredly is.
For years now, it feels as though many appreciate Holmes and all he offers: the dunks, the spunk, the zeal, the push shot, the accessory-laden gameday getup. He plays for a non-playoff squad in a small market, but he doesn’t seem unrecognized. The lengths to which every feature of his game fuels substantial impact, though, doesn’t quite seem properly conceptualized. He’s a dominant, versatile play-finisher thriving in spite of flawed initiators steering the creation ship. He’s a very good defender, even if not among the league’s nobility there.
Everywhere you turn, Holmes is providing another reason to flip on a Kings game, grab a drink, and smile at his plethora of tricks. Amid constant NBA discourse that is prone to fixating on what players or teams lack, Richaun Holmes is more than enough. And that is why he’s an understated delight.