'Beast' Richaun Holmes making strong case to be Sixers' backup center

'Beast' Richaun Holmes making strong case to be Sixers' backup center

Richaun Holmes' confidence as a starter is showing the Sixers have what they need in a backup for next season.

The Sixers have a starting center of the future in Joel Embiid. The question heading into the offseason is, who will back him up?

That role on the Sixers has been in flux because of injuries and trades. For most of his short NBA career, Holmes had been at the bottom of the five spot depth chart. He sat when the other three bigs were healthy and even spent time in the D-League to get an opportunity to play.

Now that Embiid is out for the season and Nerlens Noel has been traded to the Mavericks, that leaves just Holmes and Okafor. Expect the Sixers to look to move Okafor this offseason after they were unable to do so at the trade deadline. That would leave the backup center role open for a player to grab. Holmes is proving he is capable of stepping into that spot and earning consistent minutes.

While Okafor is still on the Sixers, Brett Brown had said he would get the start in most cases. When Okafor missed two games earlier this month, Holmes got the nod.

Holmes capitalized, and when it came time for Brown to match up with Dirk Nowitzki in the starting lineup Friday, he went with Holmes for his athleticism to defend the future Hall of Famer away from the basket.

"For me to consider Richaun is born out of what we've seen and it's really born out of those skill packages, as I've said, with his bounce, his athleticism, his ability to get from one end of the court to the other fast," Brown said before the 42-point win.

Holmes scored 17 points against the Mavericks. He got off to a perfect 7 for 7 start from the field, including two dunks to begin the game, and dropped 15 points in the first half.

"(I feel) very comfortable," Holmes said. "Every time you step on the court, [an] opportunity to play against the best in the world, you're going to get better. I feel like I'm getting better with every game, learning more every game, and just looking to continue to improve."

This month, Holmes is averaging 13.4 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 63.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three in 23.7 minutes. He scored a career-high 24 points against the Clippers last weekend in 27 minutes off the bench.

Holmes has been proving he can handle the pressure and competition of the starting lineup. In five games as a starter, he's averaging 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds, compared to 7.9 points and 4.7 boards off the bench.

"He's a beast," Justin Anderson said. "I've [seen] that for a while. I remember watching him in summer league. He plays extremely hard, and then now he's shooting the three, his ability to just dunk on people. He's really good. He's a really good player. I'm happy for him. When he gets going like that, we're a tough team."

Holmes has been in and out of lineups, back and forth from NBA to the D-League. Whenever a chance to step up arises he has run with it, fast enough and far enough to demonstrate why he should earn a consistent role next season.

"I don't think my confidence has been down," Holmes said. "I've always been a confident player, confident in the work I put in. Now it's about just getting a chance to show it and trying to go out there and prove it every night."

LeBron James is on the verge of history; Sixers don't care

LeBron James is on the verge of history; Sixers don't care

The Sixers welcome LeBron James to the Wells Fargo Center as the King is looking to make history.

They’ll be shorthanded as Joel Embiid will miss his ninth straight game and Josh Richardson will sit with a left hamstring strain.

Here are three storylines to watch:

LeBron on the verge of history

With 18 points Saturday, James will pass not-quite-Philadelphia native Kobe Bryant for third place on the all-time scoring list.

After practice Friday, the Sixers were peppered with questions about James getting to that mark in their building. 

Their overriding response: They don’t care.

“It’s not on my mind,” Brett Brown said. “I think he’s class, and he’s a champion, and he’s incredibly important to our league. To feel at all the need to come in and if he scores whatever number you just said against Philadelphia ... I don’t care. I want to beat the Lakers and it doesn’t enter my mind, that side of the equation of defending him or the Lakers.”

Veteran Al Horford, who’s had plenty of battles with James in his career, was even more indifferent. 

“I don't care about [it],” Horford said. “Obviously, we want to win the game. That's all I care about. He's got a great body of work, career for him when he accomplishes that feat, but I don't care about that.”

The Sixers are dealing with injuries and are sixth in the East. They have much bigger things to worry about.

How do you slow LeBron down?

If the Sixers want to win the game, they’ll have to at least slow James down. Not having two of their best defensive players in Embiid and Richardson makes that task even more difficult.

When it comes to LeBron, there is no one defender that can get the job done. It has to be a collective effort.

“You’ve got a few choices — you can either take a charge and take a few years off your career, or you can wrap him up and make him go shoot free throws,” Brown said. “The unlikely instance where you’re going to go block a shot or steal the ball, I doubt it. And so your options are minimal when you’re on an island. They increase when you can actually show a crowd. And therefore you need a team — it’s a team thing that we’re talking about. Otherwise, you can’t. I don’t think you can.”

Brown wouldn’t reveal who’d get the first opportunity to guard James, but did hint that impressive rookie Matisse Thybulle could get a look.

Brown has been hesitant to put Ben Simmons on the opposing team’s best offensive player because of the big minutes the point guard plays. Tonight may be an exception. Simmons is having a Defensive Player of the Year caliber season and is one of the few players in the league that can match James’ physical prowess. It’d be a big test for Simmons and fun matchup to watch.

Who will step up?

With Embiid and Richardson out, the Sixers are losing a combined 38.4 points per game. For a team that’s had its struggles offensively this season, it’s less than ideal.

So where do the Sixers go for answers?

One player that’s stepped up in a big way recently is Furkam Korkmaz. The Turkish wing, who seems to be in line to start Saturday, is shooting 50 percent from three on 7.6 attempts over his last five games. He’s averaging 16.6 points during that span.

“I think during the season we’ve had a lot of challenges like this,” Korkmaz said. “It’s a long season, anybody can get injured. I hope that’s not going to happen, but when someone is out you need to play more for each other. I think we’re going to figure it out. I don’t know who’s going to lead it … but I think the most important thing is to stay together. And like I said, until now we’ve had a lot of challenges like this, so we’re going to figure it out.”

When Richardson went down just four minutes into Wednesday’s loss in Toronto, Brown turned to second-year guard Shake Milton. Milton played his most minutes since last season’s season finale.

While he spent much of last season in the G League with his two-way deal, he improved his ball handling and in running the pick-and-roll. While his shot hasn't translated consistently on the NBA level, it’s part of what made him so attractive out of SMU.

The one thing the 2018 second-round pick does have is the confidence of his coaches and teammates.

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him,” Horford said. “He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him.”

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NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

“The Latvian Laser” might not be for sale.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Wizards haven’t been listening to offers for sharpshooter Davis Bertans. 

“Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal,” Mannix reports. “Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline."

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and Mannix have all reported that the Sixers have interest in Bertans, who’s shot 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game. That’s the best percentage in the league among players who have attempted at least eight threes per contest. 

Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Wizards were “fielding calls” for Bertans despite general manager Tommy Sheppard saying the team had “every intention of retaining” the forward in free agency. The Celtics, Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets are also suitors for Bertans, according to Hughes.

Bertans is making $7 million this season but looks set to earn substantially more when he becomes a free agent. The Wizards hold Bertans’ Bird Rights after landing him in a trade this summer, which means they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6, so it’s certainly possible that the Wizards will be open for business when it really matters. It seems that it would make sense to at least consider offers. 

Regardless, Bertans is an attractive player for the Sixers, and for contending teams in general who want an elite shooter. 

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