Watch this man: Richaun Holmes has never been better


Richaun Holmes is enjoying a career-best year and helping the Sacramento Kings turn their season around after a slow start.

After finishing 39-43 last year — their best record in more than a decade! — the Sacramento Kings entered the 2019-20 season with legitimate playoff aspirations.

Their 0-5 start temporarily sent them crashing back to earth, but fifth-year center Richaun Holmes helped them get their season back on track.

Holmes, who signed a two-year, $9.8 million contract with the Kings in free agency, was an afterthought during a summer in which Sacramento shelled out a combined $187.2 million to Harrison Barnes, Dewayne Dedmon, Cory Joseph and Trevor Ariza. While the springy 26-year-old profiled as nice frontcourt depth behind Dedmon and 2018 No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III, he never figured to play a prominent role in an early-season turnaround.

But when Bagley suffered a fractured thumb in the Kings’ season opener, it paved the way for Holmes to carve out a larger role in head coach Luke Walton‘s rotation.

In his 18 games as a starter, Holmes is averaging a career-high 12.8 points on 68.0 percent shooting (!), 9.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in only 30.9 minutes per night. The Kings average 9.7 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, which is the second-highest mark of any Sacramento rotation player (trailing only Harrison Barnes).

Holmes doesn’t fit into the unicorn mold — in fact, he has yet to attempt a single 3-pointer this season — but that hasn’t stopped him from making a positive impact offensively. He’s averaging 3.9 points per game as a roll man, which puts him in a four-way tie for the 12th-most leaguewide.

“That’s kind of what I do,” he told Alex Kramers of in mid-November. “I’m a big-time roll man. I want to finish on the rim and put as much pressure on the rim as I can.”

The Dallas Mavericks found that out the hard way Sunday night.

Midway through the second quarter, Holmes set a screen for point guard Yogi Ferrell and then took off toward the basket. With Mavericks center Dwight Powell stepping out to prevent Ferrell from launching an unguarded shot, Ferrell instead lofted a lob toward the rim and let Holmes do the rest.

Holmes wages a nightly assault on rims, but his offensive impact isn’t limited to strictly dunks. He leads the team in both screen assists (3.6) and points generated off-screen assists (8.8), the former of which ranks 22nd leaguewide.

“Running an offense, you have to set screens, and I hang my hat on being a guy who gets my teammates open and gets my teammates some good looks,” he told Kramers. “And in turn, a lot of times when you screen, you’re the one that’s open, because your guy has to help. It just makes the offense flow better and I try to lock in on that.”

Holmes has impressed on defense in the early going, too.

The Kings allow 1.9 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and he leads the team in both blocks (1.4) and contested shots (9.9) per game. Opponents are shooting only 54.6 percent around the rim against Holmes, a mark which ranks ahead of Clint Capela, Joel Embiid and Marc Gasol.

At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Holmes has the lateral quickness to defend pick-and-rolls, although burlier centers give him problems at times. He also remains frustratingly mistake-prone, as evidenced by his 5.1 fouls per 36 minutes. During his three years with the Philadelphia 76ers, that tendency often got him in head coach Brett Brown’s doghouse.

Walton has been far more patient with Holmes, in part out of necessity with Bagley sidelined. However,  the Kings have cleared Bagley to resume full-contact basketball activities and are now listing him as day-to-day, according to Sean Cunningham of ABC10 Sacramento, which seems to suggest his return is imminent.

It’s unclear whether Bagley will supplant Holmes or Nemanja Bjelica in the starting lineup upon his return, but the former deserves a permanent spot in the rotation based on his early-season play. His explosiveness and athleticism mesh well with third-year point guard De’Aaron Fox, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury since mid-November.

The Kings aren’t running like they did last season — in fact, they’re last in the league in pace — but Holmes and Fox eventually could get the Kings back to the run-and-gun style they thrived under last year. Until Fox returns, though, Holmes will have to continue making do with Joseph and Ferrell.

That hasn’t been too much of an obstacle as of late. He erupted for a career-high 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting and 10 rebounds in the Kings’ 127-116 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers this past Wednesday, and he stuffed the stat sheet two nights later with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks in a one-point loss against the San Antonio Spurs.

Holmes won’t generate many headlines outside of the Sacramento area, but his rim-rattling dunks, explosive finishing, pick-and-roll prowess and shot-blocking acumen make the Kings far more fun on both ends of the floor. The next time you pull the Kings up on League Pass, focus on Holmes when you aren’t watching Buddy Hield scorch the nets from deep.

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