NBA players are hardened to adversity. They’re used to it. The rigors of an 82-game season playing in the most competitive basketball league on the planet can grind a polished player to dust.
Throughout the 2021 NBA Season, Richaun Holmes experienced a different category of adversity. Troubles scoping well beyond anything you can train for, run a drill to correct, or rehab to recover. All his metrics fell in tandem with the struggles he endured.
The first injury manifested itself in November, just 18 games into the 82-game season. Holmes was sidelined with an illness that would see him off the floor for three games. This would be the first, and arguably the lightest, of the challenges he would face going forward. From that November injury on, there was a different Richaun Holmes on the floor for the Sacramento Kings.
The decline was not immediately evident. Holmes returned from his illness and looked the part, scoring 27 points on a perfect 12/12 shooting against the Lakers on November 30th. Just over a week later, he suffered a lacerated right eye against the Orlando Magic and the snowball began rolling ever-so-slowly down a steep, steep cliff.
Short-term memory makes it hard to remember, but adverse circumstances ran an otherwise promising season off the road.
Early Season Excellence
The Sacramento Kings center was on his way to career highs. In 18 games before his injury, he was averaging a career-best 14.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG, and was shooting 69% from the field thanks in part to Tyrese Haliburton's surgical distribution.
Through the first 9 games of the regular season, Richaun Holmes netted six double-doubles; in an efficient fashion. 21 points in the opener against the Blazers, 21 against the Pelicans, and 23 against the Hornets. That Blazers game? 90% from the field on 10 shots.
Tyrese Haliburton and Richaun Holmes had the pick and roll down to an art form. Holmes made 198 shots in the entire 2021 season; 60 of those shots were assists from Tyrese Haliburton. In 733 total minutes with his rising-star facilitator, he shot 10 percentage points higher on 2-point field goals.
Per BBall Index, as the roll man in the Sacramento offense Richaun Holmes scored 1.26 Points Per Possession; good for the 75th percentile among all NBA players.
All signs pointed to Richaun playing exactly as the Kings hoped he would when they inked him to a brand new, 4-year, contract in August of 2021. The Orlando game changed everything.
Rocky New Year
The Sacramento Kings fired Luke Walton on November 21st -- just 17 games into the season. Alvin Gentry would take over a floundering team that despite some early flashes from key players could not secure anything resembling a winning record.
That week in the NBA would see the King's new coach and Holmes first injury-induced absence. By the time he returned to start practicing and playing with his new coach, he had his right eye lacerated in the midst of a game against the Orlando Magic.
That injury would sideline him for seven games and required the use of special goggles just to get some playing time when he was able to return. He appeared in 5 games following his injury and struggled to re-adjust. Far off from his stellar start, Holmes netted 6.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game before he was taken off track yet again.
Richaun was assigned to the league health and safety protocols on January 2nd. Eight more games would be lost as Holmes barely had time to find his footing. Nine games on and eighteen games off from Thanksgiving to the first week of the new year.
He returned against the Houston Rockets on January 16th as the Kings were going into a tailspin. A reduced minutes-workload saw an expected reduction in PPG. The Kings would lose 8 of the 10 games heading into a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves; until the unexpected happened.
The Sacramento Kings New Center
The Sacramento Kings traded their budding point guard Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers in a deal that returned 2-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis. The Kings pushed a marketable trade chip right to the center of the table and took a swing on a brand-new starting center.
Holmes missed the Timberwolves game following the Sabonis trade and when he returned saw his minutes significantly reduced. Understandably so; Domas Sabonis is an exceptional big man. Someone Monte McNair thought highly enough to trade his best young player to acquire.
But where did that leave a center who was on his way to career-highs before a multitude of injuries? Who now was without the playmaker responsible for 30% of his offensive production?
The answer was never made clear. He got four games as a newly minted backup center before injuring his back and missing more time. The results weren't pretty. With everything that transpired why exactly would they be? There was no longer a clear role, not enough minutes to find that role, and not enough games to hone that role even if he could see the floor.
Beaten down by injury, the final hurdle ended his season. An array of personal tragedies and complicated legal matters led to the Kings excusing Richaun for the remainder of a forgettable 2021 season.
Reasons For Optimism
There are plenty of reasons that Richaun Holmes can rebound in 2022. He's still the same talented player. There will be plenty of time in training camp to adjust to the new dynamic between his minutes and Sabonis minutes as the clear starter.
The Kings still employ two very talented lead guards in De'Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell. While Haliburton was the highest-floor playmaker these two are capable of distributing competent offense
Per The BBall Index Davion Mitchell lands in the 89th percentile of passing efficiency in their creator archetypes -- De'Aaron Fox in the 92nd. Playmaking talent? Davion Mitchell - 86th percentile and Fox - 94th percentile.
While Sabonis will assume a high usage rate while on the floor there are plenty of minutes to spell Domas and see the floor with high-value passing to run actions and land his trademark push shot as a roll man. The Kings rolled out Sabonis 33.6 MPG in his short tenure. We will find out early in training camp how Mike Brown will deploy Holmes.
He will surely absorb all the backup minutes but it's not impossible to perceive a dual-big lineup featuring both Sabonis and Holmes. Alvin Gentry only played the two together for a grand total of seven (!) minutes last season. Not nearly a large enough sample size to draw conclusions. Spacing concerns may nip that lineup in the bud early. Those possibilities remain a mystery.
What is clear are the possibilities that Fox and Holmes open up when sharing the floor:
Per PBP Stats, the combination of De'Aaron Fox and Richaun Holmes logged an offensive rating of 113.81. Haliburton and Holmes without Fox? 101.5. The Kings traded one point guard because they believed that had another who could run an effective offense with the ball in his hands.
For Richaun Holmes, there should be plenty of belief that he bounces back in a big way -- Even if the volume of minutes isn't available. He remains a high-energy, efficient player that can be a valuable cog in the Kings' quest to end an excruciating playoff drought.