Sleeper Deep Dives: DaRon Holmes II
Dayton big man DaRon Holmes II generated some draft hype toward the end of last season, but he is still flying under the radar when it comes to first round buzz for the 2023 NBA Draft.
DaRon Holmes II was one of the most impressive first-year players in college basketball last season at Dayton. Despite failing to crack the Top 30 of his high school class, ranking 38th in the 2021 class per RSCI, he immediately earned himself a starting spot for the Flyers and proceeded to take on the Atlantic-10 Conference with confidence.
Holmes racked up awards during his first campaign for the Flyers, winning the Conference Rookie of the Year award. He also earned spots on the First Team All-Defense squad and the First Team All-Freshman squad, and even a berth on the All A-10 Second Team.
Holmes averaged 12.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 2.3 BPG in Year One at Dayton, in addition to filling out his rapidly expanding trophy shelf. He led the A-10 conference in Field Goal Percentage (64.9%), True Shooting Percentage (64.4%), Effective Field Goal Percentage (65.1%), and Win Shares (5.7), while also finishing third in total blocks (81) and fourth in BPG.
Despite the accolades he received for his first college season, Holmes decided to return to Dayton for his sophomore year. So far in the early going for the Flyers, he has shown dramatic improvements in key areas of his game—improvements which should seriously boost his stock by the time the 2023 NBA Draft rolls around.
Although Holmes garnered plenty of praise from awards voters last season, the draft community has not been as high on his potential. Holmes finished 35th on the first $DRFT ranking of the season, and he didn’t even crack the boards for two of the outlets our own Corey Tulaba uses for those rankings.
It’s certainly early in the season, but DaRon Holmes II has started the year strong and has shown improvements in critical parts of his game. He might not be heralded as a clear Top 30 pick just yet, but his solid foundation and early signs of growth will give him a chance to follow in Obi Toppin’s footsteps as the next Dayton Flyer to hear Adam Silver call their name in the first round on draft night. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Post Scoring and Passing Growth
DaRon Holmes II was an exceptionally efficient player on the offensive end of the floor last season. If he had simply continued to work on the best parts of his game in the offseason, he would still be an intriguing prospect to evaluate; however, there are some early signs that he has added to his game in ways that will make it even more difficult for NBA teams to pass on him come draft night.
Let’s start with the old with Holmes before getting into the new. He was absurdly effective as a scorer last season—Holmes ranked in the 97th percentile overall on offense, per Synergy, and he was in the 98th percentile in transition. He runs the floor very well at 6’10” and is always looking to push the ball up the floor after a rebound.
Holmes was amazing as a transition threat, but that was far from his only strong point on offense. He ranked in the 95th percentile in halfcourt settings, and he graded out as above-average in every play type but spot-up shooting. He has a smooth post-up game, and he isn’t afraid to deploy multiple counter-moves if his first one doesn’t give him enough space:
While he did generate a significant portion of his offense from post-ups, Holmes is not just a back-to-the-basket big man in halfcourt settings. His most common play type last season was not post-ups, but cuts. Holmes finished 28% of his possessions last season as a cutter and averaged a remarkable 1.391 points per possession on those plays, per Synergy—that put him in the 83rd percentile as a cutter. Holmes reads the game at an incredibly high level already, and that’s often easiest to see when he spots a momentary crease in the defense and finds his way to the rim before anyone can stop him:
Holmes would be on track to hear his name called at some point on draft night this year if he simply kept up his performance from last year. However, as mentioned previously, he has already shown some positive growth from last season on the offensive end. Crucially, the biggest development for Holmes this season has been as a playmaking hub; he is running much more of the Dayton offense this year than the year before, and that added element to his game will be vital to his draft stock going forward.
Last season, Holmes mainly operated as a play finisher for the Dayton Flyers. He was never a selfish player by any means, and he has always been smart about keeping the ball moving when he didn’t have a good look. However, this season Dayton has relied on Holmes to set up his teammates not just on kick outs from post-ups but also on occasion as a ball-handler in transition and as a handoff hub from the top of the key. The early results have certainly been promising.
Holmes has already dished out 12 assists in his first four games; that 3.0 APG mark is well above his 1.3 APG average from last season. While many of those dimes have been simple passing reads, Holmes has also already thrown some impressive cross-court passes that reveal that he may have some more highlight-reel dimes in store as the season progresses:
In addition to his growth as a passer, Holmes has also shown some more aggressiveness with trying to get to the free-throw line. The small sample size of four games makes it even more difficult to draw definitive conclusions here than it is with his playmaking, but he is averaging 5.8 FTA/G this season—up from 4.0 FTA/G last year. He has knocked down 14 of his 23 attempts from the stripe so far, for a 61% mark from the line; that’s not exactly stellar, but it is a slight uptick from last season. He will hopefully continue to get to the line at an increased rate this season, but his touch once he gets to the line is certainly an area for improvement.
That brings us to the biggest weakness in Holmes’s offensive game: his shooting touch. Simply put, Holmes is not a shooting threat at this point in his career. He rarely tries to shoot when opponents give him space. Even when he does decide to shoot, he has a long windup and a slow release that may need to be reworked at the next level; the shot looks awkward even when it does go in:
The advanced numbers back up his shooting issues—Holmes ranked in the 18th percentile on spot-ups and in the 15th percentile on jump shots last season, per Synergy. Despite being wide open on nearly all of his shooting attempts, he struggled to knock down even the rare jumpers that he did take.
The flip side, of course, is that nitpicking the shooting numbers for DaRon Holmes II does a disservice to the rest of his spectacular offensive game. He could stand to improve his shooting touch, sure, but he doesn’t really need to do that to succeed at the next level. His ridiculous numbers in transition, exceptional cutting ability, and burgeoning passing game at his size will make it easy for him to find a home in an NBA rotation.
While improving his shooting touch could open up the rest of his game in the long term, Holmes is already so good at so many different complementary skills on the offensive end of the floor. Even if he is a non-shooter at this point in his career, he checks enough other boxes on the offensive end to be able to earn rotation minutes. He might not stretch the floor as a shooter just yet, but his vertical spacing is more than enough for now in light of his other skills.
Defense: Shot-Blocker Supreme
Speaking of DaRon Holmes II’s other skills…
Holmes was spectacularly efficient on the offensive end during his first season for the Dayton Flyers. On the defensive end, he was just plain spectacular. In addition to stuffing the stat sheet with his blocks, Holmes also graded out exceptionally well in some of the advanced numbers. He ranked second in the conference in Defensive Win Shares and third in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, per sports-reference.
The defensive film for Holmes definitely backs up those impressive numbers. He moves well laterally for his size, and he can switch onto perimeter players in a pinch. Still, teams probably won’t be evaluating Holmes primarily as a switching defender. After all, drawing Holmes out to the perimeter takes away his greatest defensive strength—namely, swatting opposing shots into orbit:
In the small sample size of the early season, Holmes has somehow been even more impressive as a shot-blocker than he was last season. His Block Percentage of 8.7% last season was sensational, but it was still only good enough for fourth in the A-10. This season? Holmes is up to 9.2% in the early going, and he stands alone atop the A-10’s shot-blocking ranks.
The biggest statistical defensive weakness for Holmes is probably his rebounding, even though he did finish in the Top 20 in the conference in Total Rebounding Percentage last year and 18th in total rebounds. Even then, his middling rebounding numbers are a bit misleading; Holmes is often tasked with boxing out and allowing his teammates to snag rebounds. That leads to slightly deflated rebounding numbers for Holmes and more boards for Toumani Camara—who led Dayton in rebounding last year and has already pulled down an astounding 49 rebounds in Dayton’s first four games.
Also, while he did post absurd block totals, Holmes wasn’t much of a defensive playmaker when it came to jumping passing lanes last season; he only managed to snare 15 steals in 35 games. However, he is already well ahead of that pace to start his sophomore campaign, with four steals in his first four games. He has already showcased his preternatural awareness on the defensive end with his shot-blocking; if he can continue to jump passing lanes at a decent rate this season, his already astounding defensive game will be even more impressive:
DaRon Holmes II has already proven himself as one of the top shot-blocking prospects in this class, and he is also one of the best transition big men in college basketball. If he can get himself and his team out on the break a little more often this season by grabbing more rebounds and generating more steals, his already excellent defensive skill set will somehow look even more impressive.
The early portion of the season has been up-and-down for DaRon Holmes II. Dayton has played four games thus far, with two of them coming against traditional college powerhouses SMU and UNLV. Holmes was spectacular against SMU, putting up 20 points on 11 shots, getting to the free-throw line nine times (going 6-of-9 from the stripe), and rejecting five shots.
His outing against UNLV was the opposite side of that coin. Holmes went just 1-of-5 from the field, scored two points, and turned the ball over four times—equal to his turnover count across his other three games combined. His two points matched his college career low—which, oddly enough, also happened in his third game of the season last year.
While his poor performance in the UNLV game was not exactly ideal, Holmes has proven that he can dominate against high-caliber competition—just as he did in the game before his bad outing. If anything, Holmes plays his best games against elite competition; his highest scoring output last season came in Dayton’s first A-10 Tournament game against UMass, and he also was outstanding in both of Dayton’s NIT games last year.
The important thing to note here is that Holmes has been given a dramatically expanded offensive role this season, and he has lived up to it in the early going. His PPG average might end up being similar to last year’s mark, or it might be artificially dragged down right now by one poor game in a four game sample size, and his scoring numbers will be higher by the end of the season.
What certainly seems clearly early on, though, is that Dayton is running their offense through Holmes this season. He is no longer just a scoring threat; this year, he’s been the central hub of the offense. His passing has gone from being solid for his position to being a potential tentpole of his developing overall game. If he continues to thrive in that capacity, his potential role at the NBA level will be even easier to project.
DaRon Holmes II made a clear case for himself as a future NBA prospect during his first season at Dayton as a scoring option down low and a shot-blocking menace on the other end. If his burgeoning playmaking continues to thrive alongside his other basketball gifts, he will make it very difficult for teams to pass on him late in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft.