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Jeremy Sochan is developing his shot and showing how to be effective on offense without one

The Spurs rookie does so many other things at a high level, and shifting his free-throw form to a one-handed release has improved his accuracy there and from deep.

SAN ANTONIO — Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan is working on his shooting right in front of us, all while showing how to be an effective offensive player without a dangerous jumper.

San Antonio knew when they drafted him ninth overall out of Baylor that he wouldn't be lighting it up from long range right out of the gate. They were willing to spend a lottery pick on him because he does basically everything else at a high level, and he's been coming into his own in recent weeks.

The list of NBA players who can thrive without shooting the ball well is fairly short, and even shorter outside of the center position. It's guys like Ben Simmons and Draymond Green—forwards who can guard just about everybody and create plays on the other end of the floor. Sochan fits that mold in size, style and skill.

He was a candidate for the Western Conference Rookie of the Month in December after averaging 11 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists, and there's still plenty of room for growth.

At 6'9" and 230 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, the strong and bouncy 19-year-old has a tremendous amount of defensive versatility. He can switch from one to five, and can guard the other team's best player. The four players he's spent the most time guarding so far in his rookie season are LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.

Sochan ranks fourth on the Spurs in blocks and third in steals, and gets under opponents' skin with a combination of physicality and trash talk (and pinching). He moves his feet well, crashes the glass, disrupts passing lanes and could eventually become one of the better defenders in the league. 

But what about the other side of the ball? He's shot just 21% from three and 60% from the free throw line, and some fans and media members who cover the Spurs aren't impressed. What tends to be forgotten is that there's more to offense than shooting, however, and Sochan excels at so many other things a team player on that end of the floor.

Starting with the simple stuff, Sochan uses all of that size and athleticism to finish inside in a variety of ways. Whether he's waiting in the dunker spot, cutting from the corner or after a screen, or streaking in transition, he finds the open space and makes himself a big target when he doesn't have the ball.

If a teammate throws a lob, he's going to catch it and slam it down with both hands. If the pass doesn't send him into the air, he can use power dribbles and fakes to create an advantage before scoring with power or finesse. He's also a menace on the offensive boards, soaring in for huge putbacks with regularity. 76 of his 116 baskets this season have come within five feet of the basket, and he's converting about 60% of his attempts in that range.

Not all of that comes off of assists from others, however. In fact, 42% of his baskets in close are unassisted. Sochan possesses a rare ability at his size to put the ball on the floor and create for himself and others. Gregg Popovich has even used him as a point guard a bit, something he showed flashes of as a college freshman. His mother was a point guard, and she taught him well.

Sochan can dribble and finish smoothly with both hands. He sets defenders up with crossovers on the perimeter and gets to spin moves and eurosteps when he gets closer to the cup. Who could forget when he spun away from a defender, drove in and crammed it on top of Domontas Sabonis's head?

In addition to scoring, he sees the floor well and dimes his teammates using length, smarts and creativity. 

Many of his assists come in the form of dribble handoffs, but he also drives and kicks out of double teams. He's an unselfish guy who makes the extra pass, and he's thrown some eye-popping skip passes over his head and across the court. If defenders have their hands up, he hits the roll man with a bouncer or a little two handed scoop. If their hands are down, he hooks it over the top.

This all works well in half-court sets, but it's particularly dangerous when he's zooming down the floor in transition with or without the ball. He finds the open man or the open space and generates great scoring chances in those situations.

Sochan navigates screens well and works hard to turn the corner, but he's also comfortable and effective pulling up from mid-range. He's hit 26-55 shots from 5 feet out to the three-point arc, a smooth 47%. Almost half of those are unassisted, and often he's calmly walking into a shot as the defense sags off.

So why is his shot so much less accurate when he steps outside the arc, and can it be fixed?

Sochan's jumper is currently a mishmash of mechanical quirks that negatively impact his consistency and accuracy. He has a two-motion catapult shot motion, swinging the ball up toward his forehead before launching it forward at the rim. The ball moves up and away from his body, then back toward it, then away again. Plenty of great shooters including Klay Thompson use a segmented technique, but making it work requires refined and repeatable movement. 

To keep the release straight and compact the shooting elbow needs to be tucked close to the body, and the shooting hand should be underneath the ball. Sochan struggles in part because his right elbow has a tendency to swing out as he's rising up for his shot, and because his right hand stays on the right side of the ball practically until it reaches his forehead. 

Meanwhile, Sochan's left hand also causes some issues. Typically a shooter wants their guide hand to be just that: a guide. It's supposed to keep the ball moving on a straight line up throughout the shooting motion, and other than that it shouldn't be exerting too much force on the ball. Because his shooting elbow and hand are often outside of where they should be, the guide hand compensates by pushing the ball back into his right hand and sometimes by rotating it into the proper position. 

All of this adds instability and side-to-side motion in a place where you want as little of that as possible. Compounding the issue is Sochan's habit of dipping the ball below his waist, seemingly closer to his left hip. This forces the ball to travel a further distance and go across his body, and all of this creates more opportunity for deviation from the best form possible.

The rookie's lower body shot prep is also inconsistent at this stage. He prefers to step forward into the shot a bit with his right foot, which again is fairly normal. It becomes a problem for him because the timing isn't down yet. Sometimes that foot hits the ground when he first dips into his shooting motion, other times it doesn't get there until the ball has reached his forehead.

Put it all together and it's a slow, inconsistent, inaccurate jumper. It's no surprise Sochan has struggled to connect from deep in the start of his NBA career, and it will take adjustments and a lot of practice for him to become a consistent threat from range.

This is something talent evaluators and fans knew about Sochan before he was drafted, and it's also something that he's working to fix right in front of us.

When the Spurs faced the Houston Rockets on Dec. 19, Sochan made waves across the league when he stepped to the free throw line and shot it without using his guide hand at all. He went 1-4 in that game, and the viral clips were met with confusion, derision and Dennis Rodman comparisons. 

The next time out he went 7-10 from the stripe, setting career highs for free throw makes, attempts and points as he scored 23. 

Unconventional as it may be, the one-handed free throw forces Sochan to focus more on his form.

“When I’m doing it with one hand, my elbow’s in tight. When I put my guide hand, my elbow kind of drifts out," he said about the change. That’s what we’re emphasizing.”

He's exactly right. Without the guide hand there, he's physically forced to tuck his shooting elbow and rotate the ball into the right position with his shooting hand. It also doesn't allow him to swing the ball out too far. The result is a shooting motion that's more compact and straighter up and down, which are both good things.

The results are hard to argue with. Sochan shot 11-24 on free throws to start the season, but he's 20-28 since making the change. Rather fortuitously, his improved efficiency coincides with an improved ability to draw fouls. 

It also seems that the change to his free throw form has had a positive impact on his three-point shot. He still uses both hands for those of course, but he seems to be applying the lessons and muscle memory to his long-range attempts. His right hand and elbow are in better position, he's less reliant on his guide hand, and he's seeing more of those shots go down.

Sochan started the season shooting 8-46 from three (17%), which is rough to say the least. Since he changed his form, he's hit 5-17. It's a small sample size, and it's not like he's a sharpshooter all of a sudden, but 29% is much closer to where he wants to be.

Part of the beauty of Sochan's offensive game is that he takes what the defense gives, and he's unafraid of making the right play even if it isn't in his wheelhouse. A teenaged lottery pick with loads of potential shouldn't shy away from taking those shots, especially in a rebuilding year. The best thing for his development is to work on expanding that wheelhouse and his all-around game

He's doing just that while putting himself out there and taking risks in game situations in a way that we haven't seen a Spurs rookie do in quite some time.

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