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Richaun Holmes has helped turn the Kings defense around

Sacramento’s newest starting center has quickly established himself as one of the most important players on the team.

Kimani Okearah

With five seconds left on the clock in a 94-93 game, Richaun Holmes finds himself isolated against Chris Paul. Paul crosses over and goes to his right to drive toward the basket. Meanwhile, Trevor Ariza tries to block out a much larger Steven Adams, and Bogdan Bogdanovic works on staying in front of the much larger Danilo Gallinari, who is also cutting toward the basket.

With 3 seconds left on the clock, Paul stops just inside the free throw line for a fadeaway jumper.

Holmes recovers defensively and leaps toward him, getting a hand extended all the way in front of the shot as the ball is released. Bogdanovic looks up from under the basket while trying to box out Gallinari and sees the ball bounce off the front of the rim as the buzzer sounded on the Kings victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

”It bounced from the rim and I was like, ‘oh we’re good,’” Bogdanovic said.

Holmes’ stabilizing effect on defense has had many saying the same thing this season: Oh, we’re good, the Kings are going to be OK.

As another example, it was just last month when Holmes found himself in the same situation.

In a one-point game, Holmes got caught on a switch and ended up isolated on Donovan Mitchell with two seconds on the clock. Mitchell tried to use his speed to dribble around Holmes to his right along the three-point line, but Holmes stayed with him, forcing Mitchell to pump fake when he had no time to pump fake. The result: a short shot that fell off the front of the rim. That Nov. 1 win broke the dreadful five-game losing streak the Kings began the season with.

There was likely a collective sigh of relief from everyone from the players to the fans, who thought the same thing: the Kings “were good,” they were going to be OK at that moment.

And they have been ever since, even with injuries to De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley forcing head coach Luke Walton to alter the playing style of the team. And a large reason why the team is currently sitting in a tie for the 7th seed in the West is the play of Holmes.

”He’s been impressive all year. ... He’s kind of been one of the main points with our defense turning around where it has from the start of the season to now,” Walton said. “We have all the confidence in the world in him at the end of games, during the games, against bigger players, against fast, quick guards, so he’s impressed us all.”

Walton said without the team’s defense the Kings would have been blown out by the Thunder, especially considering they were down by 11 at one point in the fourth quarter and it was the first game back from a long road trip. And it wasn’t just Holmes’ defense that helped turn things in the Kings favor in the fourth quarter, it was his rebounding and screens.

Holmes is posting career numbers in nearly every category: 12.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.4 blocks, 67 percent from the field, as well as 79 percent from the free throw line. His 67 percent from the field is good for second best in the NBA behind Rudy Gobert.

What doesn’t show up in those stats is the amount of energy he brings to the floor.

That energy is valuable, as Buddy Hield details here:

”He’s special, man. … I watched him play in Phoenix I saw how competitive he was and the problems he gave us. A guy that has a nature to just go out on the court and play hard,” Hield said. “ Having a guy with a motor like that is valuable to this team. The steals, the dunks, the blocked shots, rebounds, everything, his energy is off the charts man, you can’t teach what he brings to this game. … We need to get guys to play at his level.”

Walton has a good problem to have on his hands with Bagley now back from his injury and finding enough minutes for both. The very talented Bagley has more of an offensive game, and brings strong energy and rebounding as well. Holmes provides the defensive anchor in the middle the Kings need. Meanwhile, Nemanja Bjelica has played well as a starter, offering the outside shooting needed to stretch the floor, as well as some playmaking abilities. For the Kings to build on the success they have already had, all three will likely need a decent amount of minutes.

One thing is for sure though: There are a lot of teams kicking themselves for not jumping on the opportunity to sign Richaun Holmes in the offseason.