Ryan Hollins embracing his reserve role

Sacramento Kings teammates Ryan Hollins, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay take a selfie. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Ryan Hollins is an NBA player, but far from a household name. In fact, Hollins’ name is rarely mentioned in the NBA at all. His anonymity is the result of a lack of playing time over the past decade.  He is a player who has made a handsome living in the background, as an end of the bench good guy.

In a nine-year career with seven franchises, Hollins has averaged less than 12 minutes a game. His most prolific campaign came in 2009-10, when the seven-footer earned a career-high 27 starts and scored 6.1 points per game with the Minnesota Timberwolves while competing for minutes at center with Darko Milicic and Nathan Jawai. Hollins’ following season saw him make 16 starts and log a career-high 16.9 minutes per contest with the Clevaland Cavaliers, before his floor time began a permanent decline.

This season with the Sacramento Kings, the 30-year-old center played a total of 11 minutes in the first 15 games, but an illness to DeMarcus Cousins on Thanksgiving made way for head coach Michael Malone to tab the journeyman as the emergency starter.

Hollins shocked the modern world with an efficient 15-point, six-rebound effort on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. At one point he was 5-for-5 from the floor.

Observers waited for a similar performance on Sunday. But the big was ejected with two technical fouls in the third quarter. The UCLA product took no field goals and grabbed one rebound in 17 minutes versus the Memphis Grizzlies.

Inconsistency is the same old story for Hollins and other bench players with no defined roles. The journeyman’s workload has been so erratic over his career, he’s had to create an unusual post-game routine.

“I try to go in after the game and put in work (train) after the game as if I played,” Hollins told Cowbell Kingdom on Sunday. “So I try to have my body accustomed to the pounding of playing even though I don’t play, as best or close as I can. When I work, I try to simulate that, work hard and exhaust myself so I feel the same feeling, so that when I do have the opportunity to play, I’m not completely out of whack.”

As his minutes have dwindled, Hollins has come to understand there’s more to being an NBA player than production on the floor. The chance to serve as an elder statesman and teacher was a significant factor in his decision to sign with Sacramento before training camp.

“For me, personally, it’s an opportunity,” Hollins added. “I’m now one of the vets, one of the older guys. I get to teach the guys some of the things that I’ve been able to learn from great players in the past. And just simple things about being professional, coming into work every day, and just doing things the right way. For me, that makes this team different, and we have some talent. It’s not like we’re a lottery team, or anything like that. We’ve got talent. It’s a mix of that experience needed and talent that’s here, so it’s really rewarding as we turn this thing around.”

Those who are familiar with Hollins as a basketball player likely know he is a per-36 minute stats darling. The shotblocker has always made the most of his limited minutes to stuff the box score, but a Vlade-esque indifference to numbers has apparently aided him and the upstart Kings.

“Honestly it’s about wins and losses and I think the biggest change in this year is we play for one another. So whoever is in the game or out the game, we cheer for each other, we get it. I just see these minutes (in place of Cousins) as my turn to come in and be a part of the team and work. Can’t focus too much about stats, that’s been the difference in our team.”

The Kings are buying into what Hollins says, and the 30-year-old is proving his worth despite hardly seeing the floor.  When Cousins returns from illness on Tuesday night, as expected, Hollins will take his seat back on the bench and prepare for the next time he’s called into duty.  That’s the life of an NBA journeyman.


Rui Thomas
Rui Thomas is a writer and reporter for Cowbell Kingdom. He previously covered the Sacramento Kings and the NBA for Sports Out West. He is published by Sports Illustrated’s Truth and Rumors and Yahoo Sports NFL among others.

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