“M-V-P,” “M-V-P,” “M-V-P.”
A chorus of chants rained down in Golden 1 Center on Jan. 2, as the Kings defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 128 – 123.
For whom were the fans chanting? None other than former Philadelphia 76ers second-round pick Richaun Holmes – who was putting the finishing touches on a come-from-behind victory at the line. The fifth-year forward went on to finish with 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
“It was great, that’s not something I’ve experienced,” said No. 22 after the game. “To have the fans get behind me like that, that’s love, I appreciate it.”
Arguably the biggest breakout player of the season for the squad, Holmes outperformed all implied expectations, and not just those coming into the season, but the humble expectations and predictions made by analysts coming into the league.
Drafted by the Sixers as the No. 37 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he was compared by an analyst to power forward Craig Brackins – who appeared in 17 games over two seasons in Philly from 2010-12, while averaging 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds – and ultimately took his career overseas.
Richaun could’ve resigned himself to a short NBA stint with the low expectations, but instead, kept fighting for his opportunity to make a name for himself in the Association.
Appearing in 156 games for the Sixers over three seasons, Holmes started in only 20 games, averaging a then-career-best 9.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and one assist during his sophomore campaign.
Following his best season to-date, he was limited to a career-low 48 appearances in 2017-18 and saw his minutes cut from 20.9 to 15.5 and was traded to the Phoenix Suns in the offseason.
In Phoenix, No. 22 had flashes, averaging 16.9 minutes, 8.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game.
Holmes caught the eye of Sacramento’s brass while in the Valley of the Sun. In four contests against the Kings, he averaged 11.5 points, seven rebounds and two assists – and was brought in as a free agent during the 2019 offseason.
In his first year with the Kings, No. 22 thrived – averaging career-highs in points (12.3), rebounds (8.1), steals (0.9), blocks (1.3) and minutes played (28.2), and he grew increasingly important to the team’s success throughout the 2019-20 regular season.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Sacramento was 5.3 points per 100 possessions better with Holmes on the floor, which puts him in the 80th percentile among players in the NBA.
Among Kings players that played at least 40 games, the big man also ranked No. 1 in win shares per 48 minutes and No. 2 in defensive win shares. He also boasted the second best PER, only behind star guard De’Aaron Fox.
Additionally, among Sacramento players who saw action in at least 40 games in 2019-20, Richaun ranked No. 1 in total rebounds and blocks per game, No. 2 in 2-point field goals and No. 3 in free-throw attempts per game.
While most of his advanced stats favor his defensive effort, he also ranked No. 1 on the team in field goal percentage at 64.8 percent – a mark that also ranks him No. 4 in the NBA, behind Mitchell Robinson, Rudy Gobert and Jarrett Allen.
Although Holmes shined from an analytics perspective, his biggest strengths may not lie within the numbers at all.
His pure athleticism mixed with constant high-energy play was a contributing factor to the team’s success, as Fox would agree.
Speaking to media, the point guard lauded No. 22, stating “I think his basketball IQ is a lot better than people know about. He’s able to catch the ball in the middle and actually make a play for others and for himself … He brings that energy, he brings a shot-blocking presence, and he’s someone who can rebound the ball with the best of them. He’s done it since he’s been in the starting lineup, so it’s been great for us.”
The love affair Sacramento has with Richaun isn’t one-sided either.
The consistent in-arena and online MVP chants and praise has the Bowling Green product fully embracing the city and its fans.
“The love they’ve shown, the way they’ve embraced me, it’s very special,” Holmes said. “I love playing here. I’m happy to be a part of this culture.”
In fact, Richaun has been embraced so much during his short tenure that he could see himself retiring in Sactown.
“I absolutely love Sacramento,” Holmes told James Ham of NBC Sports California. “This community, this city, these fans have shown me, in my short time here, that I really couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else. I would love to play here the rest of my career. I love to play in front of these fans, be a part of this community — this is a great place to be, and I’d love just to be a part of it.”
While Kings fans love the big man, Richaun is finally getting recognition on a bigger stage as well.
Unsurprisingly to Sacramento faithful, Holmes was named to The Athletic’s All-Surprise Team, for his stellar showing in his first Sacramento campaign.
John Hollinger — former Memphis Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations, ESPN analyst and current writer for The Athletic – wrote about No. 22:
"A rim-runner/shot-blocker type who is a bit undersized for the 5," described Hollinger. "Holmes made two key changes in his game between Philly and Sacramento. First, defensively he’s become more alert and less mistake-prone, cementing himself as a more legitimate starting option."
The national recognition didn’t stop there. Holmes was also named Bleacher Report’s Most Surprising Breakthrough Player of the Season.
Mandela Namaste remarked, “Holmes stepped into the starting lineup and has been one of the best centers in the league.”
During the 2019-20 season, he was one of the bright spots and made it clear he’s an integral part of the of the team’s progress.
Holmes is not up for the Association’s Most Valuable Player Award, but judging by his on-court play, national recognition and the outpouring of fan support — he sure does make a case for Kings MVP.
Be sure to #Stay22uned.