It’s not hard to pinpoint the moment when this season started taking a turn for Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan. Not that he was having a bad season before — far from it by rookie standards — but there was always one glaring weakness holding him back: offense. Coming into the season, he was hyped up by his defensive skills but considered a work-in-progress on the other end, and it showed through his first 23 games.
However, beginning on December 19 in an away game against the Houston Rockets, Sochan broke out a one-handed free throw form. It was a little jokey at first, adding to the Dennis Rodman comparisons that came with his hair color, defensive passion and jersey number, but it turns out the change has been no joke. Not only did it show that Sohcan is willing to endure some mockery if it means improving his game, but the results are speaking for themselves.
After shooting just 45.8 percent from the free thrown line, the form change was meant to tighten his shooting elbow and prevent his off hand from misguiding the ball. It worked, as his free throw shooting almost instantly improved, with him hitting 7-10 free throws the next game and shooting 77.2 percent from the stripe since. As a result, the improvement at the free throw line has likely improved his confidence and contributed to offensive improvement elsewhere.
Slowly but surely, his other shooting numbers have risen up. Since Dec. 19, in 20 games his overall shooting percentage has increased from 45.5 to 46.3 percent. While that may not sound like a huge jump in the grand scheme of things, most notably, his three-point shooting has shot up from a horrible 17.2 percent before to a very respectable 36.2 percent since, and it doesn’t appear to merely be an extended hot streak; he has legitimately improved as a shooter.
It would be one thing to see such improvement across a couple of seasons. Such a jump even by next season wouldn’t have been too surprising, but this kind of in-season growth from a rookie has been eye-opening. Over the last six games, he is averaging 18.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3 assists on a 50/55/86 shooting spilt, all culminating in a career night for Sochan against the Suns, where he scored 30 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists while comfortably hitting 3-6 from three — all while running point guard in the crunch and overtime. It may not be the wildest stat line ever — and he will certainly put up more someday — but it was still a historical for the teenaged rookie:
Only FIVE teenagers in NBA history to have 30+ points, 8+ rebounds and 5+ assists in a single game.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) January 29, 2023
LeBron James (6)
Kevin Durant (2)
Luka Doncic (3)
Zion Williamson (1)
JEREMY SOCHAN (tonight)
That’s it, that’s the list.
There’s no doubt that is some elite company, and it doesn’t seem like a one-off. It feels like things are only beginning for Sochan, and that should have fans excited for next season, wondering what else he can do with another summer of working with the Spurs developmental staff under his belt.
Sochan entered the season as the Spurs highest draft pick since Tim Duncan and possibly their most promising prospect since Kawhi Leonard. He managed to break the mold early by becoming a starter on day one and has more than proven the coaching staff’s instincts about him correct. He handled being thrown into the fire early like a veteran and has already made a bigger jump in 43 career NBA games than anyone could have imagined.
Of course, there will be more ups and downs because he’s still just a rookie, but if there was such a thing as an in-season Most Improved Player award, Sochan would surely be a finalist.