By Andrew Curran (@andrewjc417)
Overlooked and lost in the shuffle have been the constant themes of Richaun Holmes’ basketball career. Overlooked by college scouts, overlooked by NBA teams, and overlooked by fans, Richaun Holmes has had a chip on his shoulder throughout his journey, a feeling that can be seen through his ferocious finishes and Rocky-like passion on the court. It has been a long road from Moraine Valley Community College to the NBA for Holmes, but he is finally starting to demand attention.
First, a brief personal aside. Back in 7th grade, playing basketball for Cherry Hill Travel, I was stuck at the bottom of the depth chart with flashier, more well-known athletes ahead of me. I played sparingly, checking in briefly when someone got into foul trouble. But one game, due to injuries and a myriad of unfortunate circumstances, we only dressed six players, and guess who got the start at the 5. I went in and tore it up, reaching a double-double and even banking in an unbelievably ill-advised three ball with twenty seconds left in the half, which I may or may not have read as two seconds. That performance led to a gradual increase in playing time as the season went on.
Fast-forward to November 9th, 2015. With Nerlens Noel out due to an ankle injury, Holmes got his first start with the Sixers. At one point, Holmes was trailing the one and only Phil Pressey on the fast break against the Bulls. Pressey lobbed it up, and it was thrown down emphatically by you guessed it, Mr. Holmes. It was at that point when I began to personally identify with Richaun Holmes, another player who needed to catch some breaks to show what he could do.
Holmes ended that first start with a modest, yet surprising, total of 11 points, while playing in a system designed to cater to the 3rd overall pick and future cornerstone, Jahlil Okafor, not some unknown, 2nd round tweener. In the remaining games last season, it appeared obvious that Holmes deserved to play. He brought a fire to his play that fans of The Process have come to appreciate. This time around, with the revolving door of undrafted and 2nd round players having stopped spinning, Holmes needs to be allowed to have an impact.
Nerlens Noel and Richaun Holmes are, in many respects, very similar players. However, their main difference lies in their draft status. Naturally, being a high draft pick, Noel gets every benefit of the doubt, while Holmes has a very small margin of error. While logic dictates that Noel is more valuable than Holmes, stats tell another, very interesting story.
Interestingly enough, Holmes averaged 14.6 points per 36 minutes last season as, opposed to Noel’s 13.6 points/36. Holmes shot nearly 60% from two-point range, whereas Noel was slightly above 52%. Proof of Holmes’ superior offensive game goes well beyond stats. Throughout last season, it was clear Holmes was more comfortable taking mid-ranged shots than Noel, and even getting them to fall towards the end of last year.
This preseason, Richaun’s jumper has continued to improve; when he has time to set his feet, more times than not the ball will end up in the hoop. On the other hand, Nerlens, despite multiple offseasons spent re-working his shot, still looks awkward when shooting and optimism over possible improvement is running out rapidly. Even when finishing inside, the gut feeling with Holmes is that somehow he is going to end up putting someone on a poster, while you often expect another clank off the backboard from Noel. Then, while Noel grades out as a better defender on the whole, Holmes did offer similar rim protection in terms of blocks, besting Noel 2.1 blocks/36 to 1.8.
To be fair, Noel does score slightly higher than Holmes in categories such as rebounding, steals, and assists, but there are reasons to look past those numbers. First of all, Holmes’ rebounding was a legitimate weakness, but his improvement on the boards this preseason and at the end of last season has been nothing short of impressive. It is not bold at all to say that at this point, he is the better rebounder both in terms of aggression and technique. His 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes this preseason is much better than his numbers last year, and also better than Noel produced a year ago.
Nerlens does have much quicker hands, as his steals output is historically great for a man his age and at his size, but the assists and PER are particularly deceiving stats. Holmes often played with the second team, a group which we can all agree was straight-up incompetent at times. Holmes was often the one bright spot, and frequently made passes that would be counted as assists if he was playing with better teammates. With the logjam at center for the Sixers, Holmes might be more effective at the 4 than Noel for short stretches, thanks to the former’s ability to step out and hit a jumper.
Now, am I saying that the Sixers need to get rid of Noel ASAP to make room for future All-Star Richaun Holmes? No. But Richaun Holmes is a much more capable player than he gets credit for, as supported by both stats and the eye test. If Noel does leave Philadelphia, it’s good to know they have a ready-made replacement already in-house.