Ask any Texas coach about Jonathan Holmes, and you're likely to get an earful of coaching clichés, about how Holmes brings it every day, is one of the two hardest workers on the team (with Demarcus Holland) and how his attitude helped to set the stage for the team's turnaround this year.
All of those, while true, are impossible to measure. But one example of Holmes's hard work: his development as an every-night shooter and scorer, is more easily documented.
Holmes said earlier this year that he spent most of his time this offseason working on his post moves and scoring around the basket. If so, it's a great example of "best laid plans" going by the wayside, as his outside shot has improved dramatically, and his game has subtly shifted further away from the basket. Take a look.
Holmes's Shooting Percentages (Per Hoop-math.com)
71.4 percent at the rim (36.6 percent of Holmes's shots)
32.7 percent on two-point jumpers (34.0)
28.9 percent on three-point jumpers (29.4)
58.8 percent from the free throw line (36.6 FTR)
74.7 percent at the rim (32.2 percent of Holmes's shots
44.8 percent on two-point jumpers (37.3)
36.6 percent on three-point jumpers (30.5)
74.6 percent from the free throw line (50.6 FTR)
Holmes is actually a better shooter from every part of the floor than he was a year ago, something you don't see happen very often (and something that would probably be nearly impossible for Holmes to duplicate as a senior). But you can also see, from the shot percentages, that his game has slid a bit further out: Holmes now takes a higher percentage of two-point and three-point jumpers than he did a year ago, while he takes a lower percentage of shots at the rim.
Another interesting part: though some might argue that Holmes has gotten less aggressive because he's shooting more jump shots, he's actually getting to the free throw line quite a bit more often, with a free throw rate that's 14 percent higher than it was a year ago.
All of that: the improved shooting and more developed offensive game has allowed Holmes to average 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season, making him one of the top power forwards in the league. Of players who play the four as their primary position, only Dustin Hogue of Iowa State has a better rebounding average. And only Oklahoma's Cameron Clark, Oklahoma State's LeBryan Nash and Kansas's Perry Ellis have higher scoring averages.
Now, Holmes showed flashes of being that player a year ago. He averaged 11 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game in a seven-game streak before getting injured, though he wasn't able to keep that level of consistency when he came back.
When Holmes was in the middle of that streak, I asked one of the Texas coaches about whether they thought he could be as good as Oklahoma's Romero Osby with time. Both were 6-foot-8 stretch-four type players, and Osby — then a senior to Holmes's sophomore — was in the middle of a season that saw him average 16 points and seven rebounds per game.
"I don't see why not," the coach responded.
While Osby's 16 points per game average is higher than Holmes's current mark of 13.2, it's important to note two things. First, that Osby's mark was put up as a senior. And second, that Osby's average is based more on a higher usage rate than anything else.
Osby was so tough to defend because he could take other big men away from the basket, where Osby shot 41.1 percent on two-point jumpers. But that rate is lower than Holmes's mark of 44.8 percent from the same range. And while Osby excelled at driving past slower players and shot 66.2 percent at the rim, Holmes is at 74.7 percent. Osby shot better than 50 percent from three, but it's worth noting that he was a reluctant shooter from that distance, only taking 17 shots there all year, making nine.
In fact, the only areas where Osby was better than Holmes comes at the free throw line. He got to the line more often: his free throw rate of 58.6 is higher than Holmes's current mark of 50.6. And Osby shot 79.4 percent from the line when he got there. Holmes is at 74.6 percent.
While Osby may turn out to be a good comparison, KenPom compared Holmes's sophomore year to the sophomore season of another player: Jamie Skeen, then of Wake Forest. Skeen transferred after that season to VCU, where he was the driving force behind leading VCU to the Final Four as a senior.*
* Interestingly enough, one of Skeen's comparisons for his senior year, per KenPom? That's right, Osby's senior year. And around we go!
Of course, Holmes and Skeen have one major difference: for his part, Holmes said he never really considered transferring from the Longhorns, even with with mass exodus in the offsesaon with his classmates Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis, Myck Kabongo and Jaylen Bond all electing to leave. That left Holmes as the only man standing from a six-man recruiting class that also lost Sterling Gibbs after Holmes's freshman year.
Holmes was one of the later additions to that class (though Gibbs and Bond were added late), a late-bloomer who exploded in the summer after his junior year to earn offers from Texas and Texas A&M, among others.
He picked the Longhorns and hasn't wavered since, earning kudos from the Longhorn coaches for his work ethic, drive and determination to improve since arriving on campus.