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Philadelphia 76ers

Richaun Holmes is Philadelphia’s other, other, other Center

Steven M. Falk/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire
Steven M. Falk/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Back at the beginning of training camp, when Philadelphia 76ers big man Nerlens Noel was making the controversial statement that having three starting centers was too many, General Manager Bryan Colangelo was quick to proofread his work and point out that a fourth name should be in the conversation.

For many, the inclusion of Richaun Holmes was just an additional bit of posturing from Colangelo, one more way to show Noel he doesn’t have any leverage in the situation. After all, Holmes doesn’t have nearly the pedigree of Noel, Jahlil Okafor, or Joel Embiid. He wasn’t a top-half of the lottery selection; rather, he fell to the 37th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Also, while I’m sure Bowling Green is a fine institution of higher learning, he also didn’t attend a known basketball powerhouse like Duke, Kentucky, or Kansas.

However, after a summer where he looked a bit too advanced for the competition in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Holmes is continuing to show this fall that there might be a bit more than lip service to those words from Bryan Colangelo. With Okafor yet to make his preseason debut following meniscus surgery, Noel missing the last two games with a minor groin injury, and Embiid still on a 12-minute restriction, Holmes has been the steady presence in the frontcourt for the Sixers.

Through three preseason games, Holmes leads the team in average scoring (16.3 points), rebounding (7.3), and blocks (1.7), while shooting 65.5 percent from the field and 91.7 percent from the foul line. As always, Holmes brings a certain ferocity to the table. Whether he’s protecting the rim…

Or finishing in traffic.

Philadelphia benefiting from having Holmes on the court is not a recent phenomenon either. Last season, as a rookie, he had the top offensive rating on the team (102.6 points per 100 possessions), and the sixth-best defensive rating (105.1), ahead of either Noel or Okafor. An underrated factor in the Sixers’ late-season swoon (when they won just three games after January) was Holmes missing most of March and April with an Achilles injury.

That’s not to say Holmes is a fully-formed product. One area of his game that still needs work is defensive rebounding, where he often becomes overeager to make the big weakside block, rather than sticking with the more fundamentally sound box-out on his man. BballBreakdown’s Nick Sciria pointed last week how poorly Holmes rebounds on that end among players who are strong on the offensive glass.

Fortunately, that seems like a correctable issue for a 22-year-old with all the physical tools to be an effective rebounder. Picking his spots better as to when to leave his man is something that should come with additional coaching and playing experience.

When it comes down to it, while Holmes doesn’t have the elite upside of his higher-profile center teammates, you could make the argument he’s the one with the least visible glaring hole. Unlike Okafor, he’s shown the ability to serve as a defensive anchor around the rim.

Holmes doesn’t look like he’s wearing boxing gloves when trying to catch a pass in traffic like Noel. And it’s nice to not feel your heart instantaneously drop into a shadowy abyss whenever he comes down somewhat awkwardly, a la Joel Embiid.

On a team with a bunch of injury uncertainty, Holmes is shaping up as a steady, reliable presence. Given the fact that a trade of Jahlil Okafor and/or Nerlens Noel seems inevitable, having Holmes around to immediately fill the void is a comforting feeling. No matter what happens, you have to give it up to Richaun Holmes for pushing himself into the conversation.

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