For 17 years, San Antonio Spurs fans feasted on the successes of a basketball dynasty. Guided by fabled knights like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and even Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs of the Round Table were as mythical as they were real.
At the head of the crew sat King Popovich, aided by his men-at-arms Chip Engelland and a host of others who left the kingdom for the faraway lands of Salt Lake City and Milan. And lest we not forget the wayward Doc Rivers, who nearly staged a coup in before the 6-8 Spurs went on a heater in ‘99.
Now, a year after Engelland’s departure, the Spurs will another noble to replace his Shaq-sized shoes: a Baron. Jimmy Baron.
Getting past the King Arthur/Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones/House of the Dragon references the Spurs hired a new shooting coach back in May and in response to £er Spiceymeatball, who requested a bit more info about Coach Baron, we’re going to talk about it.
On the #NBA coaching front, being told #Spurs hiring IMG’s Jimmy Baron as team’s new shooting coach.— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) May 2, 2023
A former player & Rhode Island alum, Baron is credited for working with all-stars Derrick Rose, Kevin Love & John Wall.
Reached out to Spurs. No comment.#Sportsbiz pic.twitter.com/WTLJkSDodw
What we know
Baron hails from a bit of a basketball dynasty of his own. His father, Jim Baron, coached in the NCAA between 1978 and 2016. That run includes an 11-year stint at Rhode Island, where he coached Jimmy between 2005 and 2009.
Jimmy Baron’s collegiate ascent was summed up nicely in a New York Times profile on the Baron family in 2009:
“When Jimmy Baron graduated from [high school], his only scholarship offer came from Division II Assumption College. He blossomed during a prep year at Worcester Academy and has become one of the best shooters in Atlantic 10 history, an academic all-American and a fringe N.B.A. prospect... averaging a team-high 16.7 points a game and … his 45.6 percentage from 3-point range ranked him No. 7 in Division I.”
Baron finished that season with the NCAA’s fifth-best three-point shooting percentage at 45.4%, better than Stephen Curry’s (38.7%) that season.
After graduating from Rhody, he bounced around various international teams, earning a EuroCup championship in 2013 and honors as the LKL’s (Lithuanian League) leading scorer and best foreign player in 2017.
Billy Baron (Jimmy’s brother), was a standout college basketball player as well. Billy even has his own connection to the Spurs: he currently plays for the Italian team Olympia Milano, which is coached by former Spurs assistant Ettore Messina.
Since 2020, he served as the Head Skills Coach at IMG Academy in Florida. Prior to IMG, he ran several professional skills clinics for a decade before joining IMG in 2020. At the pro level, he’s counted Blake Griffin, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Derrick Rose as his clients.
For comparison’s sake, it’s worth noting that Engelland was an four-year shooting aficionado at Duke before starting up a handful of skills clinics. He had a bit more NBA coaching experience before arriving in San Antonio, but Baron and Engelland both fit a similar brainy mold.
Who he’s coached
Let’s focus on IMG for a moment, because there are some intriguing insights to be gleaned from his three years in Bradenton.
First off – IMG Academy is a high school, but it’s the sports equivalent of whatever program Hollywood child actors enroll in to earn an education in between takes. Your high school might plaster its Wall of Fame with photographs and newspaper clippings of that one spectacular four-year varsity quarterback from the early 2000s who earned a walk-on spot at [insert Power-Five program here]. IMG brags that it accounts for “approximately 25% of all college freshman roster spots annually.” These aren’t student-athletes. They’re supremely gifted athletes who happen to be the same age as other humans who tend to be grade-school students.
Unsurprisingly, Baron coached no shortage of NBA talent at IMG. Most recently, 2023 lottery picks Jarace Walker (No. 8) and Jett Howard (No. 11) came up under his tutelage. And Baron’s imprint has been noticeable: SI.com ranked Howard as one of the draft’s top shooters, with The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor praised the Michigan guard as a three-level shooting threat. Baron also coached Summer League standout Keyonte George at IMG.
But let’s take a closer look at Walker, the most intriguing case study for San Antonio. Here’s why: when I say which current member of the Spurs would you like to see develop a consistent shot, the answer is probably Jeremy Sochan. Right?
In terms of body type, Walker and Sochan bear several similarities. Both clock in around 6’8/6’9 and roughly 235 lbs. Walker’s wingspan is a bit longer, but the tandem are both in the 7ish feet range. In college, Sochan shot 29.7% from three and 58.9% from the free-throw line, while Walker’s numbers were better – 34.7% from three and 66% from the line.
And while Walker’s shot isn’t perfect, the foundation is there and intriguing enough to believe it’ll develop into a consistent threat.
The same is not true of Sochan. Yet. But if Walker’s foundation is any indication of Baron’s ability to squeeze a solid shot out of over six-and-a-half feet of muscle, then sign me up.
There’s another reason why Baron’s hire is exciting for a player like Sochan. According to one pre-draft scout, Sochan’s shot mechanics are in need of HGTV-levels of remodeling:
“Jeremy Sochan’s shot is riddled with a number of erratic movements that intermittently interfere with his consistency from the foul line, off the dribble jump shots, and 3 pointers.”
Ouch. But not surprising.
Here’s how Baron solves that problem: emphasizing fluidity and momentum rather than form. In his own words, Baron recognizes that every player is different and requires tailoring a shooting motion to their specific style. That idea isn’t just smart, new sports technology is being developed around the very concept.
Back to that scouting comment. Put another way, the scout is saying that Sochan’s shot hurts from lack of fluidity – there are too many other things going on that distract from the ultimate goal: putting the ball in the hoop.
Case in point: Sochan’s one-handed free throws improved his numbers, but it’s not perfect.
Jeremy Sochan ONE HANDED FREE THROWpic.twitter.com/5rcfwkJfN9— NBA World (@NBAW0RLD24) December 20, 2022
He brings his arm all the way up and takes an ever-so-slight pause before getting his upper body involved. Instead of one constant motion, Sochan’s shot looks like an elevator stopping between floors. In other words: Sochan needs more fluidity. Less elevator, more…escalator.
In addition to fluidity and momentum, Baron stresses the importance of footwork (not a new concept) and that it’s “best to miss off the back of the rim so that players mentally commit to each shot – and guarantee to never have a shot attempt fall short.” Sochan should have no problem in that department.
There’s no replacing Engelland, but it’s up to Baron to deliver and secure a seat on Pop’s Court. I mean Pop’s Round Table. I mean his bench.