After a three-year stretch in which the Philadelphia 76ers went 47-199, the team finally took a step in the right direction during the 2016-17 campaign. The young squad was able to win 28 games, matching their combined win total from the previous two years.
Joel Embiid exceeding all expectations was certainly a huge part of Philadelphia’s progression, but other Sixers stepped up as well. One such player who deserves credit is Richaun Holmes, who was one of the franchise’s bright spots as a sophomore. In fact, the 23-year-old played so well that he eventually worked his way into the starting lineup near the end of the season.
Holmes averaged 9.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and .9 blocks in 20.9 minutes per game – while shooting 55.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three-point range. Per-36-minutes, this translated to 16.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals.
And when Holmes’ was given more minutes, he thrived. Embiid had a season-ending injury after 31 games and Nerlens Noel was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, which created more playing time for Holmes (who transitioned from power forward to center). Sixers head coach Brett Brown raved about Holmes’ production and eventually decided to bring Jahlil Okafor off the bench behind Holmes. In 17 games as Philadelphia’s starting center, Holmes’ playing time increased to 28.6 minutes per game and he responded by averaging 14 points and 7.2 rebounds (while shooting 54.4 percent from the field).
Holmes’ advanced analytics also show the significant strides he’s made since entering the NBA. From his rookie year to his sophomore campaign, Holmes improved his PER (15.9 to 18.6), True Shooting Percentage (56.4 to 61.1), Win Shares (1.5 to 3.7), Box Plus/Minus (-.9 to 1.7), Total Rebound Percentage (10.5 to 14.4) and Steal Percentage (8 to 8.3). He also decreased his Turnover Percentage (11.2 to 10.7) despite having a higher Usage Percentage (17.9 to 18.6) in his second season.
Since being selected with No. 37 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Holmes has certainly emerged as a steal for the Sixers. Initially, he seemed like a long shot to make a difference in Philadelphia. After all, he had to fight his way onto the roster by performing well in summer league and signed a fully non-guaranteed contract that didn’t give him much security. Then, in order to crack the frontcourt rotation over his first two years in the league, he had to battle lottery selections (Noel, Okafor, Embiid and Dario Saric) and veterans (Carl Landry, Elton Brand and Ersan Ilyasova) for minutes.
Against the odds, Holmes has managed to become a key piece whom Coach Brown recently described as a “keeper.” The fact that Holmes is on a bargain deal through the 2018-19 campaign gives the Sixers even more incentive to include him in their long-term plan. His contract remains non-guaranteed, and he’ll earn just $1,471,382 next season and $1,600,520 in the final year of his deal.
HoopsHype recently caught up with Holmes to discuss his impressive sophomore campaign, offseason training plans, untapped potential, expectations for next season, thoughts on Ben Simmons given what he’s seen from the phenom behind the scenes and much more.
You managed to break out and play really well this past season, especially toward the end of the campaign. Was that just a matter of getting more playing time or was there more to it?
Richaun Holmes: I think it was a combination of the hard work I put in over the last couple years and the opportunity I received. I’ve spent a ton of time in the gym trying to improve since I entered the NBA so when I did get the opportunity to play more, I was prepared. I wanted to make sure that I was ready to perform when I was called upon.
Your three-point percentage jumped from 18.2 percent as a rookie to 35.1 percent (on significantly more attempts) this past year. How much progress have you made with your shot and how much room for improvement do you still have?
RH: I think my shot has improved a lot. I’m happy with the progress that I’ve been making, but I’m still looking to become more consistent and perfect my form because I want to be able to shoot even more.I think I showed a lot of improvement from year one to year two, but I want to make another big jump from year two to year three.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Sixers’ tanking and draft picks in recent years, but there’s not nearly as much talk about their player development program. That’s important for any young, rebuilding franchise. Behind the scenes, how have the coaches helped you expand your game and work toward maximizes your full potential?
RH: Oh man, that’s one of the main focuses behind the scenes. There’s so much focus and attention on developing each player individually as well as our development as a team. Even now, working out up here during the offseason, it’s all about helping us grow. They emphasize the things they want us to improve, they give me times that I need to be in the gym and they make the coaches available at all times. The coaches are so accessible and helpful, so they make it easy to get better. They definitely put in a lot of time working with us and there’s a huge focus on development behind the scenes.
This offseason, what are some aspects of your game that you’re working hard to improve?
RH: Well, for one, I want to get stronger. Entering next season, I want to be in the best shape of my life physically. Getting stronger is a big focus for me. Defensively, I’m working on the clogging the hole and guarding the pick-and-roll better. In year three, I want to show a lot of improvement on the defensive end. And, as I mentioned before, I want to become an even more consistent knock-down shooter so I’m making my form more efficient and putting up a lot of shots. Those are some things I’m focused on.
After earning the starting center job and then doing so well in your 17 starts, where’s your confidence level at right now? I’d imagine you are feeling pretty good and can’t wait to get back on the court.
RH: I’m very confident right now, and I’m very confident that I’ll be even better next year. I’ve always been confident in my abilities, while also understanding what things I need to work on.
I was surprised when you slipped to No. 37 in the 2015 draft. Is that something that you used as motivation?
RH: Oh, most definitely. I kept it in my mind and I knew that I’d have to work hard for everything. Nothing would be handed to me. Every moment I’m on the court during a game, every moment I’m practicing, every moment I’m working out, I’m thinking that I have to continue to work hard and prove myself if I want to stick around. You can always be overlooked. You can always be cut. If anything, it just motivated me to always continue working hard.
You’re only 23 years old, so you’re still very young. How much more room for improvement do you feel you have remaining?
RH: I can be so much better. So much better. I think I’m just scratching the surface of my potential. With the things I’m working on now, the way I’m feeling now and where my head is at now, I’m definitely maturing as a player and as a man. I think my best years are definitely ahead of me.
These days, NBA teams value big men who are versatile and capable of making an impact inside and out. With your skillset and the fact that you’ve played both power forward and center, do you feel like you fit the mold teams are looking for in a modern big?
RH: Yeah, I think my games fits the NBA style well. A lot of the things that I’m good at are things that teams look for from big men in today’s game such as being able to stretch the floor, being able to run the floor, guarding multiple positions, playing multiple positions and things like that. I think my game is well suited for today’s NBA.
That Sixers frontcourt is loaded with you, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Previously, you also had Nerlens Noel and veterans like Elton Brand, Carl Landry and Ersan Ilyasova. How much has it helped you, having all of those guys to match up against and learn from?
RH: It’s helped me tremendously. When you’re going up against that much talent every day in practice, the only thing it can do is make you better. They motivate me every day – practicing against them and working with them – and we really push each other. I think we’ve all benefited and gotten better from being around each other.
As someone who spent the year working alongside Ben Simmons and seeing what he can do behind the scenes, what do you think of his game and how good can he ultimately be?
RH: Man, I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest. To be 7-feet tall and be able to move the way he does and have that skill set, I’ve never seen anyone like him. And I think the thing that stands out most to me is just how hard he plays. Whether it’s a practice or a workout or a drill, he plays hard every second that he’s on the court. When you see his work ethic mixed with that talent, the sky is the limit. He could be that next generational superstar. He’s definitely special.
That leads to my final question: With Joel Embiid coming back healthy, Ben Simmons making his NBA debut, you and the other core guys continuing to improve, plus the addition of another top draft prospect, how good can this team be next season?
RH: It remains to be seen, but we have so much talent and so much size. There’s really no telling how good we can be. It’s just a matter of us honing in and getting chemistry together. I think we can make a really good run next year. We have so much talent on the team and many hard workers, so there’s really no telling how good we can be next year. We’ll see.
After winning just 16 games in your rookie season, how exciting was it to nearly double your win total? It seems like the fan base was excited and you guys were having more fun. For example, that stretch in January when you guys won 10 of 13 games – including victories over playoff teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers and LA Clippers. What was that like, and how can you guys carry that excitement and momentum into next season?
RH: It was so much fun. It’s always better to be winning than losing, and I think those experiences are important because they help you get better. You learn how to win in certain kinds of games and situations. We did a much better job of closing out games this year, and I think those experiences were part of that. Also, I think getting that taste of winning and experiencing how fun that stretch was just made everyone hungrier to win even more games next year and bring our city success.
Holmes is holding his first annual basketball camp for kids in Lockport, IL, on June 27 and in Philadelphia, PA, on June 28.
Interview, Top, Ben Simmons, Carl Landry, Dario Saric, Elton Brand, Ersan Ilyasova, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Richaun Holmes, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors