Richaun Holmes isn’t a name that will turn heads or fill the front pages of newspapers around the country.
He’s a 27-year-old center entering the prime of his career while simultaneously becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason. For the past two years, he’s been locked away in Sacramento playing for a Kings franchise stuck somewhere between playoff contention and the lottery. The NBA equivalent of being stuck in the desert with no food or water. This offseason he has the freedom to choose who he wants to play for. And if he ends up in Dallas, it may be the rare offseason move that benefits both the franchise and Holmes greatly moving forward.
Dallas’ need for a big:
A rugged rebounding big who plays with energy and can score around the basket is a known need for Dallas. The NBA Playoffs exposed the Mavericks’ lack of interior punishment for teams that elect to go small. And by the end of the Mavericks’ playoff run, the team resulted to playing Boban Marjanovic for long stretches, as they searched for a feasible counter to the Los Angeles Clippers’ small-ball lineup.
For those that watched the Mavs all season, it wasn’t surprising. The center position was a question mark from opening night until the final buzzer of the year. It was center by committee, with Willie Cauley-Stein, Dwight Powell, Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber and Marjanovic splitting the tasks on any given night.
The lack of a go-to option at center undoubtedly hurt the Mavericks as they struggled to grab timely rebounds and alter drives to the rim. It also left the team scrambled for lineup answers after Porzingis proved the Clippers matchup wasn’t one he found advantageous.
With Holmes, Dallas has an answer to nearly all of the center position questions.
How Holmes helps offensively:
First, he knows his role within the offense. During the 2020-21 season, Holmes averaged 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. The scoring improvement came because of the added moves in his offensive arsenal. His push shot became one of the most effective looks in basketball. He had a nearly unstoppable ‘baby hook.’ And he was a threat on the offensive glass.
As a result, Holmes shot 74 percent on shots at the rim. Late in the season, he became a devastating pick-and-roll finisher with thunderous dunks and soft flip shots depending on the circumstances. But it didn’t stop there. Between 3-10 feet from the basket, Holmes shot 55 percent on the year, and between 10-16 feet, he shot 66 percent. He was an advantageous scorer, even though Sacramento rarely ran offensive sets designed to get him buckets.
His point guard was De’Aaron Fox, who is a consistent playmaker in his own regard, but he is no Luka Doncic. If the floor was open for Holmes because of Fox’s devasting downhill finishes, with Doncic’s offensive prowess that space is only magnified. And with Porzingis’ floor spacing abilities, Holmes’ offensive gameplan is simplified: catch lobs, defend efficiently, and play with energy.
At a time where touches are at the forefront of players’ minds, Holmes is a player who is content in finding his points in less glamorous ways. Consequently, he finds success in doing the little things.
“Just play hard,” Holmes said back in 2015 when he was fighting for a roster spot in the NBA. “Control the things I can control. Effort. Communication. Helping my teammates. Everything I can control, I do it to the best of my ability. I just come in and give maximum effort and maximum communication and do whatever I can to help the team win.”
How Holmes helps defensively:
Secondly, he’s one of the most underrated defenders at the center spot in the NBA. And a defensive-minded center will abate Dallas’s often leaky rim protection defense.
Inside six feet, Holmes held opposing players to 11 percent below their season averages, and from 10 feet and in, his opponents posted a minus-8.3 percent. What he lacked in size, he made up for in speed and tenacity.
“Defense is a lot of effort and having the wherewithal to make multiple plays,” Holmes said to Alex Kennedy of Basketball News when asked about what makes him a good NBA defender. “It’s the NBA, so it’s tough to guard guys. But you need to have the effort to make multiple plays — [even if you] get beat, you’re chasing down the ball and trying to block the shot and never giving up on plays.”
Outside of just holding his opponents to lesser percentages, Holmes developed into a good weak-side shot-blocker. His 1.6 blocks per game were a career-high, and his play earned him some All-Defensive Team buzz near the end of the season.
To put it in perspective, no Mavericks center/forward was close to being mentioned for an All-Defensive Team selection. Porzingis was supposed to be the anchor of the Mavericks’ defense, but injuries stripped him of the defensive mobility he was once known for. Adding Holmes covers for Porzingis’ defensive lapses. And as a versatile weak-side shot-blocker, he provides the needed rim protection Dallas lacked during the season.
“It can be kind of hard for people to see someone’s impact on the defensive side of the ball,” Holmes said. “A lot of people don’t really focus on the defensive side of the ball outside of the stats. But just being in the right position and stopping things before they happen — and being in position to stop drives before they even happen, before people can get to the rim and before it even becomes a blocked shot — those are the sort of things that people don’t really pay attention to, but that are very important on the defensive end.”
Holmes’ market value:
Holmes’ estimated market value is in the ballpark of a four-year $80 million contract, according to recent reports.
That deal breaks down to roughly $20 million per year. And this offseason, the Mavericks have the potential to clear nearly max cap space, but they first have to answer the Tim Hardaway Jr question. Defining that value gives the organization an answer to if they can bring him back, and the likelihood of having enough space under the cap to sign Holmes.
It’s no secret several teams will bid for the 27-year-olds services. But Dallas has to be the most appealing destination. With the generational talent of Doncic and the floor spacing of Porzingis, Dallas will only ask Holmes to do more of what he is already doing in Sacramento. A big with Holmes’ skill set was overlooked because of the 3-point boom. He’s now turned into one of the most coveted free agent options this offseason.
What to expect from Dallas:
The Mavericks are interested in Holmes. They first tried to bring him to Dallas before the trade deadline. This offseason they have the potential to add him to the roster without sending compensation back to Sacramento.
Holmes may not make Dallas immediate championship contenders. Few players have that ability. However, his presence alleviates Dallas’ frontcourt shortcomings while also providing an advantageous scorer around the basket and a lethal pick-and-roll partner for Doncic.
Holmes isn’t a household name, but he is the type of center the Mavericks need going forward.
“I’ve worked hard the last six years and I’ve put myself through a lot and I just want to be in a position to take care of my family,” Holmes said. “I want to be compensated for that and just get to that point where I’m not worried about anything financially. And I think that’s something that I have an opportunity to do here.”
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Feature image via Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports.