There’s always a market in the NBA for seven-footers who’ve proven capable of handling one or two specific duties, and the interest that a handful of teams are reportedly showing in Ryan Hollins is evidence. Hollins is to have met with the Heat, with the Kings, Bulls and Spurs having etched his name near the top of their remaining wish lists, too. Many NBA clubs take chances on undrafted rookies and second-tier pros as they fill out their training camp rosters this time of year, holding out hope that they can unearth a hidden gem, and while there’s no such upside with Hollins, there’s little risk involved with him, either.
The former UCLA Bruin fell out of the rotation for the Clippers late last season after the team acquired Glen Davis, even though Hollins was as efficient as ever in the minutes he did see. He put up an 11.9 PER, a number better than in all but one of his eight NBA seasons. That’s well below 15.0, the mark of an average NBA player, but for a career reserve who’s never averaged more than 16.9 minutes per game, that stat is not a discredit. More impressive is his 73.6% shooting percentage, a product of self-awareness as much as any other factor. He took 65.3% of his shots from three feet and in, and he made them count, connecting on 87.2% of those looks, according to Basketball-Reference. Just 4.2% of his shots came from farther away than 10 feet. Hollins, less than a month shy of his 30th birthday, is not part of the new breed of floor-stretching big men, and he knows it.
The Todd Ramasar client also knows to stick close to the rim on the other end of the floor. He blocked 2.3 shots per 36 minutes last season, which put him in a three-way tie with Tim Duncan and John Henson for 14th in the league in that category among those who played at least as many total minutes as he did. There’s a decent chance his block rate was artificially high thanks to a small sample size, since he only racked up 482 minutes over the course of the entire season, but it’s not too far removed from the 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes he recorded in 2012/13, when he hit the floor for 663 minutes.
The Clippers were a significantly more effective team defensively when Hollins played the past two seasons, which is surprising, considering that starting center DeAndre Jordan placed third in Defensive Player of the Year balloting this past spring. They gave up 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Hollins played compared to when he didn’t in 2012/13, as NBA.com shows, and 3.9 fewer in 2013/14. Of course, there are a variety of influences that go into that statistic, and it’s far from enough evidence to suggest that Hollins is a better defender than Jordan, or even in the same class. Still, it points to the notion that Hollins should have an NBA job this year, and he probably deserves a role greater than the one he played in the second half of this past season, when he was largely an afterthought.
Doc Rivers has an opening on his Clippers roster, but Spencer Hawes figures to absorb nearly all of the backup minutes behind Jordan. Hollins would provide an inside complement to Hawes’ long-range shooting, but it’s doubtful that Hollins would want to go into the year with little hope of being more than a third-stringer. The Heat have Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen to take the bulk of the minutes at the power positions, and Udonis Haslem will receive plenty of consideration for playing time, too, so Miami might not be the fit that Hollins seeks, even though the Heat lack a true center. The Bulls have Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic crowding the frontcourt. The backup center job for the Kings seems to be a tossup, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the club envisions sliding one of its many power forwards, like Jason Thompson or Reggie Evans, into minutes at center when DeMarcus Cousins sits. Few on the Spurs roster have trouble hitting the floor thanks to Gregg Popovich‘s egalitarian allocation of minutes, but Duncan, Tiago Splitter, and Jeff Ayres are all still around to play center and Hollins is just one of many free agents the team is targeting for its final opening-night roster spot.
There’s no obvious fit for Hollins among the suitors that have so far been identified, so perhaps that explains why he remains unsigned. It’s a distinct possibility that Hollins is better suited to sign after the season begins, when a team might need added depth at center because of injuries. That would allow Hollins to jump immediately into the lineup without having to compete for minutes during training camp. It would also give Ramasar increased leverage in negotiations, since in such instances the team would figure to have greater motivation to make a deal and close on it quickly than most clubs appear to have at this point. In any case, it would be surprising to see Hollins go without an NBA deal this year, and I suspect he’ll sign with a team with playoff aspirations. He’s not the sort of player that a franchise focused on the future would seem to want, but for a club that can’t afford too many mistakes this year, he’d fit right in.