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WNBA Draft Watch 2020: Joyner Holmes comes on strongest when the Longhorns need her most

The Texas Longhorns have been somewhat underwhelming during non-conference play, but Joyner Holmes is playing outstanding basketball. The talented forward appears to finally have put it all together for her senior season.

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Women’s - Kansas at Texas
Joyner Holmes possesses a unique blend of size and skill at her position.
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Have the Texas Longhorns been a disappointment?

It depends who you ask. The season is still young — conference play hasn’t even started yet — and two of Texas’ non-conference losses were to teams (Arizona and NC State) that are a combined 21-0.

Still, for a big-name program that regularly lands top recruits, the Longhorns’ start is a bit underwhelming. Factor in some pretty bad losses to South Florida and Hawaii, and it’s not difficult to see why some fans are beginning to lose their patience.

Fortunately for the Longhorns, they’re getting big-time play from a critical piece of their roster: senior forward Joyner Holmes. Considered by some to be the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2016, Holmes has had an up-and-down career at Texas, low-lighted by a team suspension and a broken ankle.

Such setbacks are now in the distant past, and Holmes is playing her strongest basketball when her team needs it the most. Let’s delve into what makes this skilled frontcourt player one to watch as a WNBA prospect.

Honors and statistics

Statistically, Holmes is having by far the best season of her collegiate career. She’s averaging a double-double at 15.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while chipping in 2.9 assists. Holmes recorded a double-double in the Longhorns’ first seven games of the season.

The majority of Holmes’ collegiate accolades came during her freshman season, when she was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and took home All-Conference honors. More recently, she was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team.

Holmes first competed with USA Basketball in 2014, when she was named to the 2014 FIBA U17 World Cup All-Tournament Team and won gold with Team USA. Later, she won silver with USA in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup.

How she helps the Longhorns

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Kansas City Regional-Texas vs UCLA Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With a team-high usage rate of 27.7 percent, Holmes is the Longhorns’ go-to player. Per Synergy Sports, she accounts for over half of Texas’ total post-ups. She is the team’s most-used transition player as well (21.2 percent).

Here’s the context: Texas doesn’t post up as often as one might think, with such plays accounting for roughly 9.7 percent of the team’s possessions. Despite what her numbers and physical frame might suggest, Holmes is much more than a simple back-to-the-basket player.

At 6-foot-3, Holmes can dribble, pass and move her feet much better than most players her size. It’s her skill with the basketball combined with her upper body strength that make her such a tantalizing WNBA prospect. Watch how she defends this ball screen, turning it into an effortless fast-break layup:

Are we looking at the second coming of Candace Parker? No.

But for a player who currently ranks in the 98th percentile in defensive rebounding percentage, any amount of skill with the ball will do. It gives the Longhorns options they wouldn’t have otherwise, particularly in transition. Along those same lines, on a WNBA team with pro-level athletes and shooters, Holmes’ reservoir of potential could run even deeper. Texas might not be playing the most impressive basketball as a unit right now, but you can bet that Holmes herself has risen up draft boards since the start of the season, with room to continue doing so if the team gets things together.

Watch her play

Texas’ non-conference schedule includes a visit to No. 1 Stanford on Dec. 22 (ESPN2). The Longhorns then have several Big 12 matchups on FS1, including against West Virginia (Feb. 17) and against rival Baylor (Jan. 31 and March 5).