Every time Sixers power forward Richaun Holmes enters a game, it seems like he makes something happen. So why does he average only 13.1 minutes?
And why is it there are many nights when Holmes never enters the game at all?
Holmes finished with a season-high 13 points and 22 minutes to go with six rebounds and two steals in a 107-104 loss to the Lakers on Thursday. And while the night ultimately ended in defeat, at one point in the fourth quarter, it looked as though the 24-year-old was going to will the Sixers to victory almost by himself.
Eleven of Holmes’ points and three of his rebounds were in the final period alone. Most of all, he gave the Sixers something they had been sorely lacking for much of the contest.
“He just gave us energy,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown postgame. “He scored, but I think the way that he scored was physical. It was emotional.”
Holmes gave the Sixers a spark that few of their players off the bench — and maybe even one or two guys in the starting lineup — can.
At 6-10/235, Holmes can rock the rim and bring the entire arena to its feet just as well as Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. Holmes can rip down a tough rebound and create his own offense, even when defenders are hanging all over him. And he and the listed 7-foot, 250-pound Embiid demonstrated a rapport that looks like it would be almost impossible for most NBA teams to defend.
And the way the Sixers have been shooting the ball of late — not particularly well — establishing more offense from their bigs down low doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
“He and Jo were able to play well with each other,” Brown said of Holmes. “It helped with the way (the Lakers) were playing offense. We felt comfortable that there was a (defensive matchup) for him, but his bounce and his spirit really helped us.”
His bounce and his spirit, but also his ability.
Holmes is currently ceding minutes to Amir Johnson, in large part presumably because of Johnson's play on the defensive end. Nobody is saying the veteran Johnson, who has played well in spurts, shouldn’t be part of the rotation.
But the third-year player has outplayed Johnson on the offensive end. Holmes’ field-goal percentage is seven points better, his free-throw percentage is almost 30 points better — plus he’s getting to the line more — and he’s averaging 1.4 points more and 0.6 fewer turnovers in two fewer minutes per game.
Even assuming Johnson’s defensive prowess is more valuable, which is by no means a given, Holmes is going entire games without seeing the floor. Since missing the Sixers’ first eight games with an injury, Holmes has not made it off the bench six times. In fact, he’s failed to make an appearance in five of the last nine.
It’s curious because when Holmes has had an opportunity to play and gets extended minutes, good things seem to happen.
Holmes averaged 9.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game in 2016-17. He’s down to 5.5 and 3.8 in 13.1 this season, though that’s expected to some extent. He was coming off an injury, and there is more competition for playing time with Johnson in the fold.
The hope is over time — which is to say sooner rather than later — Brown will trust Holmes in more situations, and he starts to see more of Johnson’s minutes. The Sixers could use the energy Holmes brings, and when three-point shots aren’t falling, they could use the additional offense in the paint as well.
Holmes’ performance against the Lakers should serve as a wake-up call. He doesn’t necessarily need to be playing 20 minutes every night right now, but at the very least, Holmes should be playing every night.