With every point guard on the roster unavailable last night against the Warriors, head coach Gregg Popovich decided to start Jeremy Sochan at point guard. Yes, the very same 6-foot-9 rookie who was previously serving as the Spurs starting power forward. To increase the difficulty level for the 19-year-old even more, Pop assigned Sochan to guard Stephen Curry on the defensive end.
Predictably, it ended up being a long night for the Spurs in San Francisco, as Golden State danced their way to a 132-95 victory. Point guard Sochan finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and zero assists on 5-for-13 shooting from the field.
How Pop Arrived at Jeremy Sochan the Point Guard
First of all, Pop didn’t hop out of bed like a mad scientist with the uncontrollable urge to put Sochan at point guard. This experiment was one of necessity. Tre Jones was a late scratch due to a stomach ailment. Joshua Primo, the team’s backup point guard heading into the season, has been permanently couched. Blake Wesley, San Antonio’s original third string point guard, is sidelined with a torn MCL. Even Romeo Langford and Malaki Branham, two shooting guards who have played some point guard this season, were unavailable.
Then again, Sochan at point guard wasn’t a complete and utter surprise. In my recent in-depth Spurs Progress Report, I pointed out the rookie’s impressive ball-handling ability:
“[Sochan’s] ball-handling is really good for a big. He handles pressure well and he’s quick with it in the open court.”
Prior to the Warriors game, we’d mostly seen Sochan handle the ball after he got a defensive rebound or if the Spurs were out and running following a turnover. Considering how fluid he has looked with the ball in his hands, it didn’t take a huge leap of faith for Pop to believe that his rookie power forward could moonlight as a point guard in an emergency situation.
Jeremy Sochan’s Performance as a Point Guard
No, unfortunately Sochan didn’t transform into Magic Johnson the instant he was given the reins as the Spurs starting point guard. But the experiment also wasn’t a total disaster. His ball-handling held up well for the most part and he showed glimpses of extremely interesting ability.
Here is Sochan forcing a switch, catching the Warriors center (JaMychal Green) leaning and then attacking the basket and finishing through the contact for an and-one:
Sochan’s playmaking as a point guard was rudimentary. He didn’t run many pick-and-rolls and we didn’t see much penetrate-and-kick action. What we did see was Sochan dribbling until the defense forced him to pick up the ball and then he hit the nearest open man:
That play wasn’t overly impressive but it did show that Sochan does have some point guard instincts that the coaches could continue to try to harness. He got Keldon Johnson a clean look that San Antonio’s leading scorer has knocked down multiple times this season. However, with more experience, Sochan would learn to hold onto the ball for another half-second so that Johnson could set his feet to get an even easier shot.
Jeremy Shochan Defending Stephen Curry
As if Sochan didn’t have enough to worry about, he also had the complicated task of defending Curry on the other end. This, too, resulted in Sochan learning lesson after lesson. Nothing at Baylor could prepare him for what it takes to guard the greatest shooter of all-time.
On the Warriors first possession, Sochan turned his head for a split second to scan whether his teammates needed his help. But, as Curry’s three-pointer splashed through the net, the rookie learned that you simply cannot take your eyes off of Golden State’s sharpest of sharpshooters:
On the Warriors second possession, Sochan learned the lesson that you should never rotate off of Curry. Even though it’s technically the right basketball play, you don’t do it because Golden State has everyone spread out so much that there’s no way for a rotating teammate to cover Curry in time:
Against other teams, Johnson would have rotated to the player in the corner, Sochan would have rotated to the player who caught the pass and Jakob Poeltl would have rotated to the player Sochan was defending. But the common rules go out the window when Curry is involved.
By Sochan’s second stint, it was clear that the rookie had made the adjustments that defending Curry demands. He remained locked on Curry and resisted the instinct to rotate off of him to help a teammate. Unfortunately, that left neophyte backup center Charles Bassey in a position to chase after Jordan Poole — and that went about as swimmingly as expected:
All told, Sochan ended up defending Curry decently well. The future Hall of Famer ended up with 16 points in 27 minutes. It was the first time all season he didn’t reach the 20-point mark. Obviously, though, as the previous clip showed, Curry doesn’t necessarily need to score to positively impact his team’s offensive attack.
The Future of Jeremy Sochan at Point Guard
When Jones returns, he’ll regain his spot in the starting lineup as the team’s point guard. For now, at least, Jones doesn’t need to worry about being the second-coming of Wally Pipp. Sochan exhibited flashes but he wasn’t exactly Lou Gehrig out there.
However, I believe that Pop will keep finding ways for Sochan to handle the ball more and more. With backup point guard an issue with the Spurs right now, Pop may even consider making Sochan the backup at that position.
The ultimate goal for Pop is to have Sochan expand his offensive repertoire. Currently, his role in the starting lineup has basically been to stand in the corners and shoot open shots or to cut to the basket when the opponents are distracted. For Sochan to grow, he needs to touch the ball more and shoulder more responsibility on that end.
Playing Sochan at point guard is actually similar to the strategy the Spurs used when developing Kawhi Leonard. Back then, San Antonio was a championship contender so they had Leonard play point guard in summer league. Today’s Spurs, on the other hand, don’t have to wait for the offseason to begin focusing on player development.