Coming off of a gritty win against the Nets, the Sixers looked to avoid falling to 0-4 against the Hawks this season. With Joel Embiid done for the year and Jahlil Okafor missing his 4th consecutive game with right knee soreness, Richaun Holmes got the starting nod at center again.
Holmes was tasked with guarding eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard, no small feat for anyone, let alone a player making only his 10th career start. Heading into the game, many were wondering how he would fare against the dominant big man. He responded to the tune of a career high 25 points, adding 8 rebounds to go with 1 assist and 1 steal. As CSN Philly’s Alaa Abdelnaby put it:
“He held his own and then some.”
Holmes is used to matching up against better players. His previous career-best night came against the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic, who ranks in the top 10 in both scoring and rebounds among centers. The game was an overtime slugfest that saw him grind out 42 minutes of work down low. When asked after tonight’s game what it’s like facing high caliber players like Howard, he responded, “It’s a challenge, another way to learn, another way to get better. I enjoyed it.”
Building a reputation for himself as a hard-working and physical player, he says he’s used to playing with a chip on his shoulder.
“I’ve been overlooked for so long that it’s always been that. There’s always been somebody that’s bigger, somebody that’s supposedly better. It’s always been that way. You know, you just put your head down and keep on playing and prove them wrong.”
Making a habit of setting himself up under the basket and doing the dirty work down low, his ability to put guys on a poster is very much reminiscent of the punishing play style that LA’s Blake Griffin possesses. He isn’t afraid to take it inside on anyone and will often brutalize those who stand in his way. His defensive game leaves a bit to be desired but he’s trending upward when it comes to his defensive efficiency.
RICHAUN HOLMES POSTER pic.twitter.com/u0KSkVeh3m
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) March 26, 2017
As anyone in the industry will tell you, availability is your best statistic. Holmes looks set to cash in on Okafor’s inability to see the court. Okafor, having missed 4 of the last 5 games due to a nagging right knee issue, is quickly losing what little hold he had on Philadelphia’s backup center role. He has seemingly fallen out of favor with with the front office and has been the subject of numerous trade talks, both legitimate and contrived. Combine that with the rising star of Richaun Holmes and the future in Philadelphia for Jahlil Okafor isn’t looking so bright. He will likely be on his way out of town this offseason, leaving a vacancy at backup center.
Despite having opened the season as the fourth-string center, Holmes has a legitimate chance to start the rest of the way. While it remains to be seen if he can continue to improve and maintain his recent level of play, coach Brett Brown loves Holmes and called him a “modern-day player.” It seems the Sixers keep dropping hints that he could open the 2017-18 season as the main backup behind Joel Embiid.
Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports