I can’t tell you how excited I was when I opened this article from insider LJ Ellis a couple of days ago, and not just because it is yet another signal that we are edging closer to basketball being back. Ellis opens the piece by talking about the buzz surrounding the development of Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell as the 1-2 on the Spurs, and yes, that entices me quite a bit.
He also talks about the steadiness that Jakob Poeltl should provide (as potentially “the best player on the team") until he is possibly traded, as well as the growing and ever-changing role that Josh Primo will find himself inserted into when he returns from a sprained MCL. Both of those tidbits also add to my excitement.
Could Jeremy Sochan start day one?
But my biggest reason for intrigue when reading Ellis’ words, and the basis for which I am writing this article, is this quote right here: "Then again, if the coaching staff is serious about moving Johnson to the perimeter, that opens the door for Sochan to become a Day 1 starter. Sochan, a power forward the Spurs selected ninth overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, has turned heads in recent weeks."
This is my 10th piece for Air Alamo, and yet it is the first in which I get to spend the majority of the work writing about the Spurs’ highest draft pick since Tim Duncan. Yes, there have been plenty of words written about everyone’s favorite rookie with Fiesta-colored hair so far this offseason, but it’s a completely different experience when I get to write those words.
The quote from SpursTalk is the perfect opportunity to do so. After a summer in which a lot was made about what would happen to Jeremy Sochan’s shot with shooting coach Chip Engelland out the door, I’d like to instead focus on what the rookie adds everywhere else on the court. Last year, the Spurs were extremely overmatched at the power forward position, either playing defensive liability Doug McDermott or undersized Keldon Johnson at 4.
There is a reason that Dougie McBuckets is being shopped (he adds a lot more to contenders as a flamethrower off the bench than he does in significant minutes for the Spurs). There is also a reason that KJ has dropped some serious weight and looks to shift to small forward—his preferred position—more full time. In Sochan, the Spurs finally have someone who fits naturally next to big man Jakob Poeltl.
During the 2021-22 season, Poeltl was asked to do everything under the basket on the defensive side of the floor, as opponents bigger or faster than whoever was playing the 4 pretty much had a free lane to the hoop. He was still extremely effective (with 2.5 defensive win shares), but it was hard to ask Jak to handle anything more than screens and dribble handoffs on offense with such a big responsibility on D.
What does Sochan add to the starting lineup?
At 6’9”, 230, and with a reported 7 foot wingspan, Jeremy Sochan should ease a lot of the weight that Jakob was asked to carry on the defensive side of the floor. It may not happen immediately—Ellis reported that McDermott is still the heavy favorite to open the season at the starting power forward—but I’d bet Sochan starts for 60% of the Spurs’ games (or more, depending if/when Doug is traded).
We saw a lot of flashes from young Jeremy in the Spurs first preseason game against the Houston Rockets (a blowout in the Rockets’ favor— for fans overreacting to this, remember that 1. it is preseason and 2. it takes a lot of losing to get the #1 pick). In the below clip, you get to see all three of Sochan’s blocks on the night. What you don’t see is the lockdown defense that he was playing outside of those possessions ending in highlight-worthy blocks.
For those worried about his shot-making, he also hit a three in the video! He made two of his four attempts, including one for three from long range. Sochan filled the stat sheet in other ways too, adding four rebounds, one assist, and one steal (in just 17 minutes). All in all, he flashed the versatility on both sides of the floor that led him to be selected 9th overall by the good guys.
And this was game one of NBA basketball for Jeremy Sochan! Remember, he didn’t play at all in the Summer League after entering healthy & safety protocols. As he gets more comfortable with the flow of the game, I’d expect his play-making on both offense and defense to really stand out. There will be plenty of ugliness along the way (as with Spurs basketball as a whole this year), but I expect Sochan to entrench himself as a key building block to the Spurs’ future by the end of the season.
If you can’t tell some 800 words later, I’ll lay it out for you: I am really enticed by the prospects of the 19 year old world traveler. Jeremy and I both (as well as Spurs fans everywhere) should be truly excited by LJ Ellis’ words about his potential starting role from day one.
Honestly, if I were given decision-making duties for the Spurs, I would’ve already made the move.