After a promising start to the 2023–24 season, the Spurs have suffered several embarrassing losses that may force them back to the drawing board. Perhaps the biggest issue that needs to be addressed is the team’s problem at starting point guard.
The Spurs started the season by experimenting with playing 6’8 power forward Jeremy Sochan at point guard. Initially, the unorthodox lineup worked when coach Gregg Popovich trotted it out in the preseason and during the first few games of the year. However, it has become increasingly clear that Sochan, despite having better-than-average ball handling for a power forward, isn’t a point guard, at least not yet.
Considering that he has never played the position, he has been thrown into fire by having to learn it on the fly at the NBA level. That high learning curve could help Sochan long-term, giving him experience that he likely wouldn’t have received. Be that as it may, that learning curve may be holding the Spurs back.
Despite the ugly start, the Spurs may stick with Sochan instead of a better option.
Backup point guard Tre Jones was the Spurs’ starter last season and was solid, if unspectacular. That made Popovich’s decision to bench him a bit of a surprise, given his playmaking ability. That decision has been made all the more questionable given how well he’s played off the bench and how much better the Spurs look when he’s on the floor.
Jones looks to push the pace when he has the ball and that has led to encouraging results. The second unit features Doug McDermott and Cedi Osman, who both serve as shooting threats on the fastbreak, and Victor Wembanyama, who likes to run in transition. With his knack for pushing the pace and the Spurs having multiple weapons, they are more dangerous when he is on the floor.
He is also effective in the half court, in the pick and roll, and has helped set up Wembanyama for easy baskets including tossing him lobs over the defense. That is something that his teammates, including Sochan, have failed to do consistently thus far. With Jones clearly being the better playmaker of the two, why don’t the Spurs start him instead?
Pop seems to want to develop Sohan into a point forward, though his learning curve is holding the Spurs back. To be clear, he wasn’t the sole reason why they have been blown out by 40 points by the Clippers and Pacers, blew a 23-point lead to the Raptors at home, and lost by 21 to the Knicks.
However, Sochan doesn’t possess the shot-creation skills that Jones already possesses, and San Antonio is leaving points on the court by starting Sochan over Jones. Don’t believe me? Through San Antonio’s first seven games, Jones has a net rating of +3.0, while Sochan has an unfathomable -20.3 net rating.
In fact, Jones is one of the few Spurs that have a positive net rating, considering that the team has the worst point differential in the NBA. He also boasts a stellar four-to-one assists-to-turnover ratio on a the team that has struggled with turnovers at times.
It could get worse before it gets better but Popovich is clearly starting Sochan with an eye toward the future. Sochan probably isn’t going to be the next Magic Johnson. Instead, he will likely be San Antonio’s power forward of the future and he’ll have the experience to hopefully be a good secondary ball handler and playmaker in time.
The Chicago Bulls were among the more disappointing teams last season and a bad start to the 2023–24 season may lead to this proposed trade with the Spurs.
That could prove highly useful to the Spurs down the road, though they will be worse for it in the short term. Popovich doesn’t seem concerned with the results. That suggests that San Antonio isn’t actively trying to make the playoffs, barring significant improvement from Sochan but that may take time.