Despite being a bit hamstrung by early foul trouble, San Antonio Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan finished his most recent game against the Washington Wizards having put up 17 points, 5 assists, and 2 rebounds, with 15 of those points coming in the 1st quarter alone. Overall, the Spurs struggled to shoot from beyond the arc and allowed a career-high 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 assist from Deni Avdija, both of which gave the Wizards the edge and the eventual win, but Sochan has been a massive bright spot nonetheless.
But what's even more encouraging is that Sochan's most recent performance is only the latest in a string of outstanding games. In his past seven appearances, the 19-year-old forward has averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 55% from the three-point line and 85% from the charity stripe. While I've hesitated to use this phrase all season long, opting to see how the full season plays out instead, Sochan is undoubtedly in the midst of a breakout.
Jeremy Sochan's breakout is coming earlier than many expected
Let's throw things back to our original scouting report of Sochan from last May, because some of what we mentioned there is relevant to what's going on now. As we noted there, Sochan's immediate impact on the Spurs is and was projected to be his defensive versatility. But we noted that he would also be coming into the league as a highly efficient finisher around the rim and a vastly underrated passer. And for the most part, all of these strengths of his have looked just as impressive as advertised.
But it doesn't take a basketball savant to understand that a 30-point game from Sochan wasn't on most fans' bingo cards coming into his freshman campaign in the league. His offense--and specifically his scoring in the half-court--has come along faster than many predicted it would (including myself). The rapid improvements he's made to his jump-shooting efficiency, spurred by the switch to one-handed free throws, has been a very obvious contributor to that offensive success, but the success he's seeing goes a bit deeper than that.
What has struck me as being Sochan's biggest offensive surprise outside of his vastly improved shooting is his ability to recognize and attack space, both with and without the ball. When he's had the ball in his hands, he's been a more willing and aggressive driver, and his ability to hit pull-up midrange shots only amplifies his ability to capitalize on those drives. When away from the ball, he makes timely cuts after recognizing space, often resulting in put-back slams or soft-touch finishes around the rim. He's made it a point to create easy buckets for himself in the half-court and it's working wonders.
Speaking of his touch in the midrange, though, this may be the most promising sign for him moving forward. Going back again to our scouting report on him, we noted that stats aren't "the be-all, end-all when projecting a player’s jumper."
We've always been confident in his ability to finish around the rim, but I've been paying particularly close attention to Sochan's touch in the midrange--whether or not he gets the "shooter's bounce" on any of his shots, whether or not his misses are bad misses, and how pure his makes are. And thankfully, the signs of life in this regard he showed at Baylor appear to be translating to the next level. Per Cleaning the Glass, Sochan has hit 42% of his short midrange jumpers since December 19 (when he switched to one-handed free throws), which sits right at the 50th percentile for his position.
This isn't to say that Sochan is a finished product as a player--ideally, his shotmaking will improve even more to the point that defenders are forced to close out on him on the perimeter and/or go over screens rather than going under. He'll also need to continue improving as a ball-handler, cut down a bit on fouling, and add more muscle to his frame. But we're at a point where the improvements he's made are far too impressive to ignore. If he continues building on his game, the Spurs may have found themselves a gem in the back half of the last draft's lottery.