What are your early thoughts on the Point Sochan experiment?
Marilyn Dubinski: I get why Pop’s going with it: he sees Sochan’s ball-handling potential and likes the idea of the Tall Ball lineup, especially defensively, but it’s far from perfect (as expected). It would be unfair to say Sochan is the point guard and entirely responsible for this lineup’s shortcomings since everyone’s doing a little bit of everything, but the biggest issue the Spurs are having right now is getting the ball to Victor Wembanyama in the right spots, and he needs to work on getting there as well, so would it be easier for him to play more with Tre Jones while he works on establishing his own game?
Mark Barrington: I think it’s not a coincidence that Pop these days looks like Doc Brown (Played by Christoper Lloyd) in the Back to the Future movies. He’s a mad scientist now, and he’s building things that are a little off the grid. Sochan is Pop’s Flux Capacitor, the one unconventional component that makes his crazy DeLorean Time Machine work. Without that, you never get hoverboards and the purloined Sports Almanac that made Biff rich. Wait, who’s Biff? I might have taken this metaphor too far. I don’t know, there’s still a chance that Pop can get the Spurs offense up to 88 mph this season, at which time something pretty amazing is going to happen.
Bruno Passos: It’s fraught, but I get it. The problem isn’t necessarily what he’s being asked to do as a nominal 1 (people like to pick apart what that even means), but what you take off the floor in a Tre Jones or better playmaker. Sochan isn’t doing much in the pick and roll and he’s not trying to make high-level reads of the defense, but a more natural point guard could. And when you have someone like Wembanyama on your team, you want players on the floor who can get him the ball in the right spots, at the right time. Still, if you believe that the Spurs think they can get Sochan up to a certain level of passable offensive facilitation, then the idea of a Tall Ball lineup is probably worth rolling the dice on based on the defensive upside, at least for a chunk of the season.
Jesus Gomez: It’s an interesting experiment. The Spurs’ offensive system doesn’t in theory need a traditional ball-dominant point guard since it uses handoffs by the bigs and post-ups to start a lot of possessions and Sochan is a versatile enough defender to guard whatever position is asked of him. Under ideal circumstances, it could work. The problem is Sochan, Wembanyama and Collins are all missing threes and opponents are easily taking away some of the actions the team runs the most. So the spacing is bad to start with and often someone has to improvise to create despite not being good at it. I think Pop will give the whole Tall Ball thing time before pulling the plug if things don’t improve. My main concern is that this configuration sets Sochan up to receive an excessive amount of scrutiny, but he seems like he can handle it.
Out of the returning players, who has surprised you the most with their progress so far?
Dubinski: On the positive side, I’d have to go with Devin Vassell. He has by far looked like their best player, which was to be expected, but the amount of bulk he has put on and his pure shooting stroke has been eye-opening. Maybe it would be less surprising if he was healthy last season, but since that wasn’t the case, here we are. On the other side, Zach Collins has been confusing. He was red hot in the preseason, and his shot should come back around, but he has looked especially frustrated at times. On the other hand, he’s the leading assist man of the starters, which is more impressive on his part than a knock on anyone else.
Barrington: I’m not really that surprised at the progress of any of the second-year players, because I expected them to improve a lot in their second years. Malaki Branham is exactly who I thought he was, and Sochan is doing well with taking a much bigger role on the team. I’m going to take a pass on Blake Wesley, who still has a way to go until he becomes a part of the rotation. I guess the player I’m most impressed with is Devin Vassell, who is much better at creating his own shot and has also improved his on-ball defense. But I’m not really surprised by that, because I expected him to take a leap this season, and he’s just rising to my already high expectations of him.
Passos: I don’t know that anyone has surprised me, but guys like Zach Collins, Devin Vassell, Tre Jones and Malaki Branham have all looked like the best versions of themselves to start the year.
Gomez: Vassell was expected to make a leap at some point, but it would have been understandable if it took him a while to get there, especially after missing time last year. Nope. It looks like he was ready from the start. He just looks extremely confident in his midrange shot and has had some good drives, despite the Spurs' glaring spacing issues. He could easily average over 20 points a game with good efficiency while playing solid defense, which would make him a borderline All-Star-caliber player sooner than expected.
Which aspect of the game do you think will be the biggest weakness of this version of the Spurs?
Dubinski: Offensive creation. Outside of some spurts, the Spurs have had trouble creating team offense and getting Wemby the ball. That will continue to be an issue, but it was also the risk the Spurs were willing to take when decided to go with just one true point guard on the entire roster. It will certainly help spread things back out when Collins starts hitting threes again and Sochan learns what to look for as a creator, but at least in the short term, expect the Spurs to remain very inconsistent in that department.
Barrington: The current state of the Spurs offense is ‘clunky.’ The Spurs’ offensive attack will be inefficient for much of the season while Jeremy Sochan learns his new role as the main distributor and initiator of the offense. He just doesn’t have enough experience to quickly get the ball to the right spot, and there are just going to be a lot of bad offensive possessions where Keldon or Devin are given the ball late in the shot clock and expected to create something on their own. I think that Vassell will be fine with that role, but Johnson’s offense is much better if someone else can take some of the defensive pressure off of him. I really don’t expect to see crisp ball movement with the first team until after the All Star Break, if at all this season. The offense will be more organized when Tre Jones is subbed in for the second unit, and expect him to be the closer for much of this season.
Passos: I worry about the defensive rebounding and how much that could undercut the whole point of Tall Ball. That likely won’t be a core focus for Wembanyama despite his proportions, especially with him defending on the perimeter and occasionally leaking out to get advantages in transition, so it’ll be up to the pieces around him to crash the glass and help establish that part of the identity.
Gomez: The offense is a mess but that was to be expected with the Point Sochan experiment and trying to integrate Wembanyama into the system. A big part of what would make those offensive struggles palatable was supposed to be a much-improved defense. It’s only been a few games, but we haven’t seen that yet. Zach Collins is still getting killed in the drop, the defensive rebounding isn’t good despite the Spurs having more size than their opponents and Sochan hasn’t turned into a stopper. Worst yet, the transition defense has been abysmal at times. If things continue the way they have been, there’s a real chance that San Antonio will finish the season in the bottom third in defensive efficiency, which would be a huge failure.