This past summer, the Sacramento Kings pursued and signed two centers in free agency. Dewayne Dedmon, the sharpshooting center from the Atlanta Hawks, was lured to the team with a three-year, $41 million deal in the opening minutes of free agency, while Richaun Holmes was signed much later to a two-year, $10 million contract. That difference in dollar signs indicated a difference in theoretical role, with Dedmon sliding into the starting slot next to Marvin Bagley III, and Holmes fighting for big man minutes with Harry Giles and Nemanja Bjelica. Through the first four games of the season, those roles have completely reversed.
When Dedmon was brought onto the roster, his main offensive contribution was to act as a floor spacer next to Marvin Bagley’s mid-range and isolation post game. On paper, that pairing made perfect sense, but that lineup theory went out the window the moment Bagley was injured in the waning moments of a blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns. Instead of finding himself next to a low-post scorer who would free up shots from beyond the arc, Dewayne is now partnered with a better, more reliable three-point shooter in Nemanja Bjelica. His role has devolved from novel to redundant in the half-court. And even if Marvin was healthy, Dedmon hasn’t been able to actually act as a threat from beyond the arc, as he’s hitting just 18% of his long-balls this year, a far cry from his 38% mark in Atlanta in 2019. Piling on top of that poor shooting performance has been Dewayne’s inexplicable passes, Mikki Moore hands, and his constant moving screens. It’s early, but the Dedmon experiment has been a complete disaster thus far.
From a more positive perspective, while Dedmon has done nothing to solidify his position in the starting lineup, Richaun Holmes has done everything in his power to make a difference from the opening tip. Monday night’s performance was one of the best of Richaun’s career, but beyond the impressive box score was the chemistry he displayed with De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and the rest of the young guns. With Bjelica lighting it up from deep, Holmes has been able to offer the vertical threat in the pick-and-roll that Sacramento’s guards became accustomed to with Willie Cauley-Stein over the last several years. Dedmon was an incredibly efficient roller in his time with the Hawks, but his game was predicated on accurate ball placement and wily footwork, rather than lobs and dunks. The ability to toss the ball at the rim and watch their center go to work is an important safety valve for the ball-handlers on the roster, and that’s exactly what Holmes offers in the half-court, as well as transition opportunities.
The defensive end of the floor is another area in which Holmes has dominated Dedmon in the opening salvo of the regular season. The sample size is small, and the numbers will likely regulate and more closely converge over time, but at this point the Kings have posted a defensive rating of 98.9 with Richaun on the floor and a rating of 122 when he’s on the bench. Meanwhile, Dedmon has posted the second-worst defensive rating on the team at 121.6 when he’s in the game, and that number plummets to 105.8 when he’s in warm-ups. It should come as no surprise that Luke Walton’s most used five-man lineup of Fox-Hield-Barnes-Bjelica-Dedmon has posted a plus-minus of -35, while replacing Dedmon with Holmes has resulted in a plus-minus of +15. A fifty point swing with the exchange of just one player is quite eye-opening, even though it’s a small sample size.
Luke Walton is staring down the barrel of an 0-4 start, and he cannot afford to sacrifice production in the name of consistency. Dewayne Dedmon won’t play this poorly for the entirety of the season, and Richaun Holmes isn’t suddenly going to morph into a 20-10 nightly contributor, but until those two players more closely align with their offseason visions, Holmes must be rewarded with the starting center position.
He’s earned it.