The names at the top of the NBA’s eFG% leaders list fit into just a few categories.
There are your role players on top teams, like Joe’s Ingles and Harris, who benefit from the space elite teammates or good systems provide them to post efficient numbers.
There are your elite scorers, like Zion Williamson, or Nikola Jokic, who take and make good shots they largely create for themselves.
And there’s also a group of athletic big men, who reach the top of this list by only shooting open dunks and lay-ups, usually as the roll man on a pick-and-roll, like Jarrett Allen or, in his prime, DeAndre Jordan.
Richaun Holmes fits best in that final category — he’s an athletic rim-running big. But his shot profile doesn’t fit into that category as neatly as a big like Allen. As a point of comparison, see Holmes’ shot profile (top image) vs. Allen’s (bottom) this season per nbashotcharts.com. The colors, corresponding to frequency (with green meaning more shots taken), highlight that Holmes’ range actually extends out to the free throw line — he shoots from there more than from either low block.
Holmes has the efficiency to go with his range, too. Holmes scores 1.55 and 1.04 points per shot (PPS) from the left and right free throw line zones, respectively, numbers that aren’t far off from his PPS at the rim of 1.46. His 1.3 combined PPS from the free throw line zones is better than Brandon Ingram’s (1.0 PPS), who per Kirk Goldsberry scores the most PPG from those zones in the league.
The term “three level scorer” is high offensive praise for any player — meaning they can score from three, from mid-range, or at the rim. Richaun Holmes obviously isn’t that — but he’s an extremely unique and valuable “two level scorer.” There’s a reason the Kings’ top six three-man lineups in Offensive Rating all contain Holmes.
Many of the NBA’s elite scorers in the pick-and-roll can manipulate defensive coverages by scoring in the in-between — taking shots like runners and floaters that defensive pick-and-roll schemes tend to leave open. Holmes is a unique player offensively because he does that — as a big. Holmes’ incredible touch on push shots and floaters allows him to make shots that most high efficiency rollers don’t even take.
Look at these two quick examples from the Kings’ win over the Spurs on Monday, which showcase Holmes’ versatility as a roller.
In this example, Holmes shows off his athleticism to take advantage of drop coverage in a traditional way for an athletic rim runner. Holmes rolls hard here, putting Poetl in a tough position of having to choose to guard Haliburton or Holmes, since Keldon Johnson is trailing Haliburton after going over the screen. White doesn’t step over to help on Holmes’ roll, so Holmes is able to sky for an alley oop dunk.
Here, Haliburton catches the ball and goes right into a pick-and-roll with Holmes. San Antonio is playing drop coverage again, with Poetl hanging back to protect the rim. Johnson again goes over the screen and chases down Haliburton from behind, which leaves Holmes with a pocket of space that the Spurs’ scheme is allowing him. DeJounte Murray flashes into the lane on this play, to make Holmes think twice about just driving for a dunk like last time. But, because of his unique shot profile, Holmes is able to simply stop and shoot comfortably from there, making a tough 11 foot push shot look easy.
Most bigs like Holmes wouldn’t shoot off of a catch from this spot. Here’s an example of Jarrett Allen with a catch in a similar position.
Allen gets the catch, but a push shot isn’t even a thought to him. He’s looking to go to the basket, no matter what. Given the matchup and Jaden McDaniels’ help being a little late, Allen is still able to overpower Vanderbilt and get to the line. But this play does highlight a notable difference between what Holmes looks for on the roll, and what your typical athletic big looks for.
That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with a player like Allen — obviously, his name is near the top in eFG% as well for good reason. But Richaun Holmes’ quick trigger from the free throw line gives him a unique skillset that teams have to think about when planning defensive schemes. Holmes’ frequency and efficiency on these push shots is extremely rare — it’s something that not many bigs in the NBA can do, and none do on a frequent basis.
While this type of shot allows Holmes’ to be among the league leaders in eFG%, it doesn’t make him an elite offensive weapon, of course. Holmes is a role player on offense: he sets good screens, he can score on the roll, and he can make basic passes with minimal turnovers. At the end of the day, he still needs a good pick-and-roll ball handler and distributor in order to flourish.
But in his sixth season now, Holmes has established himself as not just an explosive shot blocker on defense, but an efficient offensive big as well. Continuing to set himself apart with his unique range and high efficiency will allow Holmes to be a contributor on a winning team if he goes to one (or if the Kings become one, but that seems less likely in the near future). An unrestricted free agent this coming offseason, Holmes could earn starting center money from teams — and definitely deserves a look from elite teams hoping to fill out their rotation.