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Jeremy Sochan could help the Spurs become a defensive powerhouse again

The Spurs got a potentially special defender with the 9th pick, but will have to help him reach his ceiling on the other end to turn him into a cornerstone.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

With the 9th pick in the 2022 NBA draft, the Spurs selected Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan. In doing so, they took a big step towards regaining the reputation as a defense-oriented program that has eluded them since they parted ways with Kawhi Leonard.

For those unfamiliar with the 6’9” forward, he was arguably the best defensive prospect on the entire class. His numbers on that end were impressive, but what really stood out about his performance was his intensity and versatility. Despite having prototypical power forward size, the 19-year-old was able to both stay with guards on the perimeter on switches and battle with bigger opponents. He’s the type of player who sets the tone on that end with his energy level and makes up for other’s weaknesses. While he won’t likely rack up the type of counting stats that turn heads at the NBA level, Sochan could make an impact from Day 1 and has the potential to truly be the leader of an elite defense someday.

The fit with the current core is not completely seamless, but it’s solid from a positional aspect as well as personality-wise. Sochan, the son of a Polish mother and an American father, grew up in Europe but played college ball in the US, which means he’s been exposed to different types of development styles. He seems to have the right combination of confidence and commitment to winning that the franchise has always championed and the current core possesses. He’s also a big forward who should eventually slot nicely next to Keldon Johnson and could thrive in San Antonio’s switch-heavy scheme. The fans that were dreading to hear Adam Silver call the name of yet another guard when the Spurs were set to pick should be happy about the selection.

The only reason to be a little hesitant about Sochan’s immediate impact is his offense. While he has shown flashes of potential on that end, he’s simply not an advanced scorer at this point. He shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc in college and has a slow, low release that he’ll probably have to reshape in order to become an outside threat in the NBA. If he’s paired with a center with range or plays the position himself in smaller lineups, he won’t fully kill the spacing, but in units that feature Jakob Poeltl, opponents should be able to pack the paint without paying for it. If Sochan was a good self-creator, the lack of a consistent jump shot wouldn’t be a huge issue, but he was mostly a complementary scorer in college. He’s a work in progress on that end.

The good news is that he’s incredibly young and a hard worker by all accounts, so the deficiencies he has now could disappear with time while his strengths get him on the floor early on. His solid passing and smart cutting should allow him to be productive on offense as his shot develops while his defense gets him minutes, likely in the second unit next to Zach Collins. For a franchise trying to find the balance between competing now while adding pieces that could allow it to actually contend in the future, a player like Sochan — who fits a need and has upside — could be a godsend.

The bottom half of the lottery can be a tricky place to pick, since the prospects that have the tools to be traditional stars are all gone, so it’s refreshing to see the Spurs take someone who could become a non-traditional one. Sochan has described himself as a mix between Draymond Green and Boris Diaw, and while it’s hard to see him reach the heights either of those special players touched, he could realistically turn out to be a good amalgamation of their skill sets.

There was a lot of speculation leading up to the draft about what path the Spurs would take with their pick. Would they go for the best player available or try to fill some glaring holes in their roster? With Sochan, they might have done both, so it’s hard to be anything but excited about the future.