Ever since surprising fans by beginning to shoot his free throws one-handed in the Spurs' latest game against the Houston Rockets, Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan has been catching some serious heat from basketball fans everywhere and has even caught some strays from Spurs fans questioning his shooting, long-term ceiling, and worth as a 9th overall pick. But instead of folding under pressure, the young green-haired forward responded in New Orleans with the best game of his professional (and college) career, posting 23 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 steal.
It's easy to get very excited about new players entering the mix on your favorite NBA team, particularly when it's the highest pick your team has had in a quarter century. But the downside of such a hyped draft pick is all the expectations that come with a high selection. Just as it's easy to get incredibly excited about a team's newest rookie, it's easy to get carried away and give that young player lofty, often unrealistic expectations.
Many in this season's rookie class have put on some incredibly impressive performances over the course of the season, and it's true that some of those impressive rookies were selected after Sochan. The Oklahoma City Thunder's Jalen Williams has a serious case to be an All-Rookie selection, Jalen Duren has looked like a double-double machine for the Pistons, and AJ Griffin has been shooting the cover off the ball for the Atlanta Hawks.
But even so, it would be criminal to allow these rookies' performances to diminish the hype behind what Jeremy Sochan already is and what he can be in the future. Through 25 games, he's shown some incredible flashes of pick-and-roll ball handling, playmaking, and defensive versatility that are valuable now and will only become more valuable in the future as he continues to develop.
When looking at what some of the draft's top talents have done this year--specifically those like Paolo Banchero and Bennedict Mathurin--it's easy to want and expect Sochan to come in and be an immediate #1 or #2 option on offense for a rebuilding Spurs team. But Sochan was drafted for his two-way versatility first and foremost: he can defend on the perimeter, finish above the rim from the dunker's spot, dish out some impressive passes, lead a fast break in the open court, and do just about anything else at an adequate, if not well-above-average level.
Will Sochan have 20+ point games from here on out for the rest of the season? I would wager probably not, but games like this one are a reminder of what he could look like in a few short seasons when his shooting begins to improve and he puts the rest of the puzzle pieces together. If you're one that prefers to base a young player's worth on their stat sheets, then Sochan may not be your favorite player for a little while. But if you ask me, what he's shown convinces me that the Spurs will have placed themselves in an outstanding position a few years from now.
So, what's the takeaway here? Patience is a virtue.