What Richaun Holmes' return means for Sixers

What Richaun Holmes' return means for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — Richaun Holmes has been cleared to make his NBA season debut on Friday and Brett Brown is ready to incorporate Holmes' unique style of play into the Sixers' system.

"What you should hear the loudest is, he is back," Brown said Thursday. "He's different. We're excited to have him back. He can help this team."

Holmes has been sidelined since he suffered a fracture in his left wrist during the Sixers' preseason game against the Celtics on Oct. 6. The injury did not require surgery.

The 24-year-old center made a strong case for the backup spot last season. Holmes posted 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in 26 games after the All-Star break in the absence of Embiid following his knee surgery. The Sixers, who rank fifth in the league in distance (miles) per game, can use his ability to get up and down the court.

"There's an athleticism that he's an elite roller," Brown said. "He rolls to dunk. I think that his breakaway rim-to-rim speed just running in early offense is A-plus. There is a sort of tenacity and a toughness — he wears his heart on his sleeve — that I think adds to what we're trying to do anyway. There's just a bounce. There's a bounce to Richaun Holmes that makes him different."

Brown has not determined Holmes' playing time against the Pacers. He will have to decide between Holmes and Amir Johnson, who has earned the backup role behind Joel Embiid and is averaging 16.5 minutes per game. Brown also will take what's unfolding on the court into consideration.

"Initially, you're going to feel the Amir situation out," Brown said. "Obviously there's a competitive situation right there with Amir and Richaun. I think the game is going to speak louder than my preconceived notion."

The backup minutes will have to be earned by both bigs. The Sixers have been turning to Johnson to add a veteran presence to the second unit. Brown credited him for being "positionally correct, almost always." Johnson has averaged 12.0 points and 9.0 boards in the Sixers' last two wins. The 30-year-old said he has learned about pace — "guys are flying down the floor" — from his younger teammates just as he's been tasked with teaching them about the game.

"He brings toughness," T.J. McConnell said. "The ability to play on both ends. He kind of brings it all. He's just a general good dude. We love having him around."

Whether it's Holmes or Johnson, the Sixers will have to try to stop a streaking Pacers team. Indiana has won three straight, including victories over the Spurs and Cavaliers.

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

Jalen Brunson

Position: Guard

Height: 6-2

Weight: 198

School: Villanova

As Mikal Bridges cements his status as a consensus lottery pick and Donte DiVincenzo’s name becomes hot enough to reportedly receive an invite to the green room of the draft, their Villanova teammate who was the consensus national player of the year has seen his stock remain static.

Jalen Brunson was the leading scorer on Villanova’s national title team last season, pouring in 18.9 points per game while dishing out 4.6 assists. Bunson, a three-year starter and two-time national champ, was also highly-efficient, shooting 52.1 percent from the floor, 40.8 percent from deep and 80.2 percent from the free throw line. And as a result of his remarkable junior season, the Villanova point guard took home a ton of hardware in sweeping the major national player of the year awards.

But, Brunson isn’t considered a surefire first-round pick.

Two of the main reasons for this? His position and age. The point guard position has the greatest depth in the NBA so lead guards don’t tend be high draft picks unless they have All-Star upside. If Bridges was five inches shorter, he wouldn’t have the same kind of value. Teams are starving for rotation three-and-D wings and not so much for high-floor/low-ceiling point guards. 

With Brunson set to turn 22 years old in August, he doesn’t possess the tantalizing upside of the top point guards in this draft like Trae Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even so, there's still a place for Brunson in the NBA.

As a three-level scorer, Brunson can fill it up in a variety of ways. He has a smooth jumper that extends beyond the three-point line. In the mid-range area, he makes up for his lack of quickness with crafty moves to create separation for pull-ups. On drives, Brunson can initiate contact to draw fouls, contort his body to avoid contests and has good touch around the rim. And believe it or not, the 6-2 guard utilizes his craftiness to be an effective post player as well. 

When Brunson has the ball in his hands, he carries a calming force with him. He plays at his own pace and just always seems in control, rarely committing egregious turnovers or taking bad shots. He's also a willing, talented passer who will make the unselfish extra pass and can also fit the ball into a tight window to a cutter/roller.

Brunson’s weaknesses have less to do with his skills and more with his physical traits and tools. He’s not an explosive athlete with crazy bounce and doesn’t possess game-changing speed or quickness. So will he be able to create enough space against more athletic wing defenders to penetrate to the rim or get off his pull-up jumper? 

Defensively, Brunson works hard and isn't way undersized as a point guard. But he doesn't have the size to switch across multiple positions and the one position he will defend is deep with high-level talent. He can survive against backups, but how will he fare against quality starters and stars?

NBA comparison
Lefties tend to get compared to other lefties, but I'm passing on the Derek Fisher comp and going with fellow Big 5 alum Jameer Nelson. The St. Joe’s product is shorter and had a little more quickness during his prime, but was a solid starter capable of scoring at all three levels despite some physical limitations. Brunson projects more as a backup but has the ceiling of a player like Nelson.

How’d he fit with the Sixers
Let’s look at the Sixers’ current guards beyond Ben Simmons. Markelle Fultz is an unknown. T.J. McConnell is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. And the only others under contract are Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot and Furkan Korkmaz.

This team needs guard depth, specifically ball handlers and shot creators/makers. While it may not come at an elite level, Brunson could fill both of those needs. And because of his shooting ability, he could also play off the ball as a spot-up shooter and secondary creator alongside Simmons and Fultz.

Draft projection 
A fringe first-rounder, Brunson's range will start right around the Sixers’ second pick at No. 26. If they pass on him there, they shouldn’t count on him still being on the board at their next pick at 38.

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Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

We’re counting down the hours now until the 2018 NBA draft, which means all of the chatter surrounding teams is heading into overdrive.

That includes the Sixers, who are reportedly still attempting to move up the draft board.

Per a report Tuesday by Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer, the Sixers are continuing to make calls about moving into the top five. However, “they have offered packages of picks, but have thus far rebuked including oft-mentioned Robert Covington and Dario Saric,” according to the report.

There has still been no mention of exactly which prospect the Sixers are interested in trading up for since former Cavaliers GM David Griffin made the claim during a radio interview last week (see story).

With six total selections in Thursday’s draft, including Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round, it makes sense that the Sixers would offer draft picks first in any potential trade.

However you feel about the streaky Covington, the team was high enough on the All-NBA defender last season to lock him into a long-term deal while Saric has proven to be a rock-solid contributor that keeps improving every day.

We’ll see if the Sixers ease off those demands as we get even closer to the draft.

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