The Philadelphia 76ers are rife with young talent, and Richaun Holmes can now add himself to that list. 

Holmes had the best game of his young career in the Sixers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks, and the sophomore’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Dwight Howard, the self-proclaimed no-doubt Hall of Famer, talked very highly of Holmes after the game, according to Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly.

“I thought he played great. I’m real happy for him. He’s a kid that I remember the first time he stepped on the court with me, he was just like excited. He kept saying, ‘Wow, I’m on the floor with Dwight Howard.’ He just kept saying he was excited. Just to see his growth from that moment, he plays with such passion, it’s great to see especially from a young guy like him. I’m proud of him.”

The second-year forward poured in 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting and inhaled eight boards against one of the best defensive centers in the league. Holmes was dunking all over Atlanta from the get-go, and he surpassed his previous career-high of 24 points relatively easily. Howard had quite the game himself with 22 points and 20 rebounds, and the two spent a majority of the night trading buckets.

Philadelphia is seeing incredible improvement since Holmes finished his rookie season, and his length, athleticism and potential on both ends of the floor have earned him more minutes in Brett Brown’s rotation. From October to February, as the backup center, Holmes averaged 16.6 minutes a night, but that has since ballooned to 25.8 during March. Because of the extended time and deepened trust, Holmes has been producing more, and the Sixers now look at him as a key contributor on both ends of the floor.

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Over his last 16 contests, he’s averaged 13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 59.2 percent from the field. Holmes is someone who hangs out around the basket and waits for Philly’s guards to penetrate, and nearly all of the looks he gets are high-percentage. Of course, there are places where he can improve, but Holmes has had more than his fair share of flashes.

Because he’s so athletic, he can take other bigs off the dribble, just not consistently. If he works at that and makes it a part of his game, teams are going to have to gameplan for him outside of being a force on the glass, and that’s going to be an issue with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric also out there. Holmes has also been experimenting with a three-point shot, and that would make him an even more effective slasher.

Where he makes his grandest impact, though, is on defense.

He boasts a defensive rating of 106 for March and holds opponents to 57.9 percent shooting inside of six feet, per By no means is that number earth-shattering, but it’s respectable. Karl-Anthony Towns, DeAndre Jordan and Steven Adams are just a couple of guys who have higher percentages than Holmes, and Philly has someone they can mold into a feared rim protector who can come off the bench without missing a beat.

At the 2015 Combine, Holmes measured 6-9.5 in shoes but boasted a 7-1.5 wingspan and a 36-inch vertical. He’s got all the physical tools to be successful, it all comes down to teaching and practice. Even with limited minutes, Holmes finds a way to be good for at least one block a night, but a big reason his time is so restricted is his lack of discipline. You can trace that all the way back to his years at Bowling Green where he averaged 2.6 blocks and 2.5 fouls for his three-year career.

A ratio like that isn’t abnormal for shot blockers. The natural reaction is to contest every shot, and younger players just have a harder time picking and choosing what to swat and what not to; Embiid was guilty of this as well. Regardless, it’s going to get to a point where drivers are aware of him and re-think their attack on the basket.

If the Sixers can trust the process with Holmes, they’re going to have yet another player who can be a game-changer down the line. He may not be a superstar or even an All-Star, but, if he excels in his role, the team has one less thing to worry about.

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