Less than three minutes had elapsed. The Kings were already down by nine. The arena was silent and somber, hushed by the thought of another embarrassing blowout loss.
That’s when Richaun Holmes came off the bench to replace starting center Dewayne Dedmon, who picked up two early fouls. Holmes couldn’t change the outcome in a 101-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, but he changed the mood in the room, leading some to wonder if coach Luke Walton should make a change, too.
Holmes posted 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting with 12 rebounds and two blocked shots in 30 energetic minutes against the Nuggets. He howled and flexed after throwing down a highlight-reel dunk on Mason Plumlee, breathing life into a crowd that showered him with “M-V-P” chants at the end of the night.
“That’s a lot of love right there and I don’t take that for granted,” Holmes said. “Love this city, love these fans, and I just want to go out there and compete every night.”
The Kings (0-4) will get their fifth chance to record their first win under Walton when they entertain the Charlotte Hornets (1-3) on Wednesday at Golden 1 Center. They desperately need a victory after losing their first three games by an average of 23.7 points and squandering a halftime lead against the Nuggets.
Holmes did everything in his power to prevent that. He invigorated a sluggish offense and fortified a porous defense, helping the Kings hold Nuggets star Nikola Jokic to nine points on 4-of-15 shooting with only two assists.
“We all know how great of a player Jokic is and how great he’s been since he’s come into this league, so it’s a challenge that I look forward to,” Holmes said. “This is the NBA. I look forward every night to playing against the best and proving myself, so I enjoy those type of matchups.”
Center of attention
The Kings brought in two free-agent centers after making the decision to let Willie Cauley-Stein leave. They signed Dedmon to a three-year, $40 million deal after appraising him as a stretch big who would pair well with Marvin Bagley III in the starting lineup. They later signed Holmes to a two-year, $10 million contract to bolster their frontcourt depth.
Dedmon is struggling to find a rhythm with his new teammates in Sacramento’s offense. He is averaging 6.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.8 blocked shots and 3.5 turnovers in 20 minutes per game. He is shooting just 34.6 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from 3-point range, shockingly low numbers for a player who shot 35.5 percent from beyond the arc in 2017-18 and 38.2 percent in 2018-19 for the Atlanta Hawks. The turnovers are especially problematic and confounding, considering he has never committed more than 1.4 turnovers per game.
Meanwhile, Holmes is averaging 10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 turnovers in 20 minutes per game. He is shooting 63 percent from the field but has yet to attempt a 3-pointer. He has posted per-36-minute averages of 18.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
There’s no question Dedmon was the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition. He was expected to space the floor to allow Bagley and point guard De’Aaron Fox to operate inside, but Dedmon isn’t shooting well and now Bagley is out for four to six weeks with a broken thumb. Nemanja Bjelica, another vaunted 3-pointer shooter, has stepped into Bagley’s spot in the starting lineup.
Do the Kings need – or want – two stretch bigs in the starting lineup?
Some are beginning to suggest Holmes should take Dedmon’s spot in the starting lineup. Walton was asked about the possibility of starting Holmes following Monday’s game. He didn’t rule it out, but he might not be ready to make that move yet.
“The thing I talked to the team about is it doesn’t matter who starts,” Walton said. “Richaun played. Whether he’s starting or not starting, the minutes are kind of going to where the energy is coming from and who’s bringing it that night.”
Bagley’s injury could put the coaching staff in an awkward position. Dedmon might be a better fit with Bagley if Dedmon was playing up to his potential, but Walton may find that Holmes is more effective with Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Bjelica in the starting lineup.
According to basketballreference.com, the Kings used 47 different five-man lineups over their first four games. Fox, Hield, Barnes, Bjelica and Holmes make up the team’s best lineup with a net rating of plus-15. Fox, Hield, Barnes, Bjelica and Dedmon have the team’s worst net rating at minus-35.
At this point, sample sizes are small and Dedmon’s struggles could be due to a lack of familiarity between him and his new teammates, but Walton will want to watch these numbers closely in the days and weeks ahead.