When the Phoenix Suns released Alan “Big Sauce” Williams this offseason, the team lost it’s primary energizer bunny off the bench. Then Phoenix acquired Richaun Holmes and suddenly the Suns had an unexpectedly perfect replacement.
Look at every good team in the NBA and odds are they have at least one of two things that help to maintain their success: an energizer player off the bench and a backup center.
When a single player fulfills both roster attributes, you know that he is pretty special.
For the last three seasons, that player for the Phoenix Suns was Alan Williams, a local kid, lifelong Suns fan, and son of Phoenix’s police chief – the perfect embodiment of a fan favorite.
But while his energy was both exciting and infectious, he lacked a level of athleticism and scoring around the basket that made him a requirement to retain, and thus when Phoenix had the chance to move on with their team option in 2018, they let him go.
(Big Sauce eventually joined the Brooklyn Nets on a two-way deal, but has yet to make an appearance in the NBA this season.)
With the news of his release Suns fans were heart-broken. Their favorite Sun was now gone and that high energy player who made a losing team somewhat interesting to watch had left with him.
Then former general manager Ryan McDonough swung a surprising trade for Richaun Holmes from the Philadelphia 76ers, and while fans didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, Holmes came with a similar pedigree to Williams – a high-energy big man – only with a special combination of athleticism and hops that Williams lacked.
Thus far Holmes hasn’t disappointed. Richaun has been great fun to watch and a defensive breath of fresh air on an otherwise consistently stagnate team.
While he did come to the Suns with the reputation of an energetic game, his inconsistent playing time with the Sixers and his position behind arguably the most visible center in the league, Joel Embiid, Holmes had been relatively hidden to Suns fans who maybe only caught a glimpse of how he was as a player on the occasional flash SportsCenter highlight (in three games against the Suns in his career, Holmes has played only 34 total minutes, scoring 13 points and grabbing a total of 8 boards).
In other words, he had been hardly memorable.
To start this season, through his first seven games with Phoenix, he barely appeared on the court, having a DNP-CD in the Suns’ surprising opening night victory versus the Dallas Mavericks, and averaging only 4.3 minutes in the team’s next six games.
Then something fortuitous happened: Tyson Chandler was slid down to the very end of the bench and eventually released leaving the backup center position to Holmes.
In still somewhat limited – although continually rising playing time – Holmes has not only taken up Williams’ mantle as the team’s heart of energy, but has used his athleticism to produce exciting slam dunks and flashy defensive plays (including an incredible block against the Indiana Pacers on November 28), plays that were not common for Williams.
During the height of the Suns’ tanking in 2016-17, when Alan Williams received the bulk of his playing time, fans regularly turned to his highly impressive per-36 minutes statistics as reason to not only play but start Big Sauce, and the reason his large extension was so widely encouraged and accepted.
In his rookie year Williams averaged 15.4p and 20.1r per-36 and followed it up with 17.6p and 14.8r per-36 in 2016-17, statistics that earned him his extension.
While Holmes’ per-36 numbers haven’t been so highly inflated, he is averaging an impressive 15.7p and 12.0r this season while also shooting an incredibly efficient 64.8% from the field (Williams’ career-high is 51.7%). Unfortunately Holmes does not meet the minimum requirement to qualify for the official leaders, but if he did, he would have the 5th best field goal percentage in the league (currently Deandre Ayton is 8th in the NBA at 61.5%).
Richaun’s defense has also been a pleasant surprise as well, a breath of fresh air really, especially with Ayton’s poor showing thus far.
Averaging 1.0 blocks per game in only 12.4 minutes per game overall, his 2.9 blocks per-36min are by far the highest on the team, and his 107 Defensive Rating is the second highest on the roster behind only De’Anthony Melton who only has 42 total minutes with the big club this season in four appearances.
Richaun Holmes is a free agent after this season, meaning that much like Alan Williams two years ago Holmes could be playing for his career and either a potential extension with the Suns or a brand new contract elsewhere.
For my money, players like Richaun Holmes are indispensable and not all that easy to find (for as exciting as Big Sauce was, he hasn’t even played a single game with Brooklyn this year). As I said too, you can usually find at least one high energy player off the bench on the league’s best teams, so if the Suns want to become one of the better teams in the league, having a player like Holmes will be a necessity.
And if they are going to want a player like Holmes, why not make Holmes that player and ink the backup center for the next few years and let him grow with the young core?
Richaun Homes has been a pleasant surprise for the Phoenix Suns this season. Hopefully as he grows the team does too, and hopefully at some point this summer he is offered the opportunity to stick around for a while. That would be ideal for everyone involved.