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Little by little, Jeremy Sochan's true colors are starting to shine through
His shot has yet to drop consistently, but the rookie forward is beginning to showcase the skill set the Spurs coveted with the ninth pick in the NBA Draft.
Jeremy Sochan was always going to be a project. A player with an array of skills that needed to be nurtured, one by one, until they surfaced on a basketball court against the best competition in the world. He can’t shoot yet, but he can handle, he can pass, he can run and jump, and he can defend his ass off. In the sports world we love to talk about the intangibles that create foundations for athletes, and Sochan’s obvious feel for the game has shown through despite largely ho-hum numbers in the box score.
But that last part doesn’t matter to the Spurs right now. They know what they have in front of them, and they know their goals for the season. The parts are all in the garage, the car just needs to be built.
“Ya know, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I didn’t scout him in college the way our scouts did,” Gregg Popovich said after his team’s 134-122 loss in Minnesota on Wednesday. “So I just try to keep an open slate, and watch guys and make decisions as time goes along. I like the way he’s playing, though. He does a good job at both ends.”
Right now, Sochan is just kind of running around out there on offense, making his marks on that fresh slate. He’s sprinting ahead of the break whenever and wherever he can, sprinkling in a few pick-and-rolls and dribble-handoffs, floating around the perimeter prepared to fire away, cutting without the ball, and filling in the gaps along the baseline and in the middle of the floor whenever teammates need a release valve. He’s being opportunistic and capitalizing on advantageous situations, all while (mostly) not forcing anything that isn’t there.
And before you posit his high volume of 3-point attempts could be considered “forced,” especially given the fact he’s shot a very rough 2-for-13 on the season from the perimeter, know his coaches and teammates are telling him to let it fly. Second-guessing only makes things worse for a team that at its core, and despite the recent streak, knows wins aren’t the ultimate goal this season. Development is the priority.
“He’s surprised me. I know it’s not easy going one year in college and going straight to the pros,” Josh Richardson said. “He’s confident, I’m glad he’s shooting his shots, and it’ll fall eventually. That’s what we tell him. So as long as he’s shooting it the defense has to respect it, and it’s good for the whole offense. And he knows that.”
Those perimeter shots aren’t going anywhere, either. You don’t need to look at tracking data to know the majority of his attempts from deep have come on open looks, and that isn’t going to change until he starts making them at a respectable clip. But during the last couple of matchups with the Timberwolves, he’s figured out other ways to impact scoring.
Through the first three games of the season, Sochan registered just one assist and one unsuccessful field-goal attempt in transition, per Synergy data; but he was out and running in Minnesota over the last couple of nights, scoring six transition buckets and finding all the right running lanes on the break. He may still be feeling things out in the halfcourt, but against the Timberwolves he let defenders know they’d better be ready to check him in the open floor.
“Every night I’m gonna bring energy and try to be aggressive,” Sochan said recently. “I’m still figuring stuff out, it’s a brand-new season, a brand-new league.”
Defensively, however, he sure seems to have some stuff figured out. Sochan was known as a bit of an irritant in college — a defender who was not concerned with the feelings of opposing ball-handlers — and we’ve begun to see some of elements of his game that make him a potential monster on that end of the floor. One minute he was taking the dribble from Anthony Edwards’ hands, the next he was blocking a Rudy Gobert dunk attempt, and all along the way he’s been cutting off driving lanes, forcing turnovers, switching onto anyone who’s been passed along, and contesting shots at a higher rate (10.5 per 36 minutes) than anyone on the team not named Jakob Poeltl or Zach Collins.
While Sochan is spending at least a little time guarding most players he shares the court with, his main responsibilities have been the big targets. On Wednesday night alone, he was the primary defender on Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards for 38.6 percent and 25.9 percent of his defensive possessions, respectively, per NBA tracking data. Towns was uncharacteristically passive in this game, but still shot the ball only one time and registered just one assist and a turnover during the 20.3 partial possessions Sochan spent plastered to him; Edwards was hot from the 3-point line early and scored a flurry of points late in the game when the Spurs were scrambling, but Sochan still allowed just two made shots and forced two turnovers in 14.9 partial possessions. He’s been a do-it-all presence for San Antonio, and one they sorely needed.
Still, the defense has been far from perfect. There have been plenty of miscommunications, some late rotations and a few silly fouls, but the baseline for a great career on that side of the ball is clearly intact. If nothing else, Sochan is going to be a player who disrupts every offense he faces, and as he grows into both his body and his role within the scheme, so too will his impact. But there is potentially so much more to his game than that.
At some point, the slashes to the rim will become more prevalent, he’ll get more and more chances to create in the pick-and-roll and in dribble-handoff scenarios, there will be opportunities to establish a pull-up game, and hopefully (for everyone involved) the 3-point shot will come somewhere down the line. Until then it’s just a matter of continuing to refine the little things.
Early in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, Sochan grabbed the offensive rebound off a Tre Jones miss, tracked the ball down at the 3-point line and began to look for teammates. But he found himself wide open, defenders sticking to their men away from the ball, and Gobert sagging all the way back in the paint, daring him to shoot. Instead of taking an out-of-rhythm attempt or forcing the pass to a covered Jones or Zach Collins, the rookie calmly took one dribble toward the Timberwolves’ big man, pulled up and knocked down a more comfortable shot.
It may have been a single, small moment, but every one of those matter. It’s like putting a Lego set together, or assembling a 1,000-piece puzzle, or playing Tetris — each piece added, however they’re shaped, adds a different element to what will eventually create a finished product.
Whatever that becomes remains to be seen, but with most of the pieces still in the box waiting to be utilized, you can at least begin to visualize the blueprint of Sochan’s basketball growth plan.
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