What Jeremy Sochan brings to the San Antonio Spurs: ‘His passion is contagious’ – The Athletic

Jeremy Sochan was the class clown at Baylor. He would fire full-court shots during shootaround, earning him the nickname “Concussion Protocol” because his errant shots were always in danger of knocking someone out. On a road trip to Texas in late February, he discovered a drum set in the stands and snuck away from the team to go play.

To be around Sochan is to experience pure adolescent joy, not to be confused with distraction. Sochan infused joy in Baylor’s program, and his ability to consume information and his unselfish attitude meant that he could really do no wrong in the eyes of his coaches.

Here was a guy who it quickly became apparent was going to be a very high draft pick, and yet he never complained about the fact that he started just one game all season. “That’s important,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “because most rookies aren’t starting and aren’t playing a ton of minutes, right? They’re playing a role. So he can fit a role and be coachable and excel in it.”

Yes, most rookies have limited roles because it can take some time to adapt to the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs will likely find Sochan to be as ready as any rookie for whatever is thrown his way.

Drew believes Sochan got the perfect basketball education, a mix of playing overseas and in the United States. He already played for Poland’s national team, and he bounced between America and Germany in high school before spending a year at Baylor.

“He was able to pick up the speed of the game, the quickness, the athleticism in the (United) States,” Drew said. “Then going to Germany, picking up the skill set as far as just the spacing, different offensive concepts really helped with his versatility, because normally a bigger kid in the States is going to post up, play on the block, be a ball screen and roll guy. Normally a bigger guy in Europe is going to be a face-up guy, pick-and-pop guy.”

Sochan played all of the above at Baylor. Drew moved him between small forward, power forward and center and used him sometimes to initiate the offense as a point forward.

“Most people can only learn one position,” Drew said. “He memorized four spots on the floor offensively. That’s pretty good in a program that we run a lot of entries and sets. And then defensively, a lot of times he guarded the four. A lot of times he started out on the five, but if a perimeter guy got hot, we could move him on to him, and he would remember scouting reports as far as, ‘Make him go left, don’t give him the 3, this is his favorite play.’ He didn’t have a ton of mental mistakes.”

Sochan’s skill is elite for his size. He’s not a great shooter yet — he shot 29.6 percent from 3 — but he’s enough of a threat that defenders had to respect him out there.

Where Sochan really excelled offensively was playing off the bounce. He could pick on big men who tried to check him on the perimeter.

He also was really good at playing out of closeouts, using his shot fake to give him a step.

“He could hit 3s, so people would have to guard him,” Drew said, “but he goes to another level when he’s a 40 percent 3-point shooter.”

That’s because Sochan is elite finishing at the rim, shooting 67.2 percent on shots around the basket, per Synergy. The shot fake is only going to get more effective when defenders really have to fear his shot. At the basket, he’s not an explosive leaper, but he’s strong and knows how to navigate around shot-blockers. He plays under control when he gets to the paint.

Sochan is also unselfish. He almost always makes the right basketball play. Notice how he instinctually makes the one-more pass as soon as he senses the defender stunting at him.

“Offensively he can fit in with any lineup,” Drew said. “He’s someone who can post up, who can shoot the 3 — and he’s going to improve that in the next couple years, obviously. Where the NBA game is going, he’s a perfect fit.”

Baylor’s coaches anticipated he’d be an effective offensive weapon from the jump because of his skill and feel for the game. Where he surprised them most was on defense. “Normally that’s something people don’t pick up on until their sophomore or junior year,” Drew said. “He picks up schemes and adjustments really quick.”

Sochan is a talker, both on the floor and off. “There were times in the huddle where he was the energy giver, the voice the guys listen to,” Drew said. “His energy’s contagious. His passion is contagious. His leadership skills are a gift.”

Defensively, he made Baylor better with his voice. You can see him talking teammates through these actions and then quickly reacting to tag the roller to draw a charge in this clip below.

Sochan can also cover a lot of ground quickly to get to a shooter.

Baylor switched all five positions, and that should help Sochan make the transition to the switch-happy NBA. He may never become a primary scorer — although it’s too early to rule that out — but Sochan should be able to get on the floor because he’s a connector. He has the size and agility that pop on the screen, but it’s the little intricacies of his game that make him a winning player.

(Photo: Chris Jones / USA Today)

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