After drafting a once-in-a-generation prospect in Victor Wembanyama, the San Antonio Spurs somehow appear worse than they were last season. While they have a talented young core, they’ve struggled to score and defend, leading to ugly loss after an ugly loss. Perhaps the biggest issue is Coach Gregg Popovich’s insistence on starting power forward Jeremy Sochan at point guard.
Tasking Sochan with playmaking responsibilities not only adds increased pressure on a young player who doesn’t have that experience but potentially hurts his development. The likely goal is for Sochan to eventually evolve into a point forward capable of being a secondary playmaker once the Spurs find their long-term point guard option.
In theory, that makes perfect sense but starting him at point guard rather than letting him slowly develop those skills is like tossing him into the deep end of the pool. It’s clear that he isn’t ready for the role, and most Spurs fans appear to agree, though this may be Pop’s way of accelerating his progress. “He’s not going to be Chris Paul in 10 games,” Popovich said.
Fixing the Spurs’ point guard problem.
Lost in the controversy of starting Sochan is the improvement he’s made as a shooter. While he still has a hitch in his shot, he is beginning to knock down a higher percentage of his threes. Last season, he hit just 24.6% of his threes, compared to 42.1% this season on low volume.
To be clear, he probably won’t be a 40% shooter going forward and probably won’t be a high-volume shooter either, but it’s encouraging development. However, with him playing more with the ball in his hands, he’s been unable to play off-ball as often, where he could use his improved shooting ability to make teams pay for leaving him open or to attack closeouts.
"“There have been moments where it’s like, ‘Yo, I don’t want to.’” “To be honest, it is tiring.” “On one side, I am guarding one of the best players most of the time. Then I got to get the ball and kind of dictate where everyone is.” Sochan told Jeff McDonald of the Express News."
Sochan also got a lot of easy baskets last season off backdoor cuts, but without a traditional point guard to set him up, he’s left to try and create more for himself. Not only that, but the Sochan experiment appears to be negatively affecting his confidence and the development of other Spurs prospects.
The Spurs are in desperate need of a lineup shake-up.
Being blamed for the Spurs’ bad start, which includes a 28th-ranked offense and three 30+ point losses in their first 11 games, tied for the most ever to start a season, would make anyone lose confidence. That is definitely a concern, particularly for a young player, a lottery pick at that and he probably isn’t alone. The Spurs’ second-best player, Devin Vassell, was recently criticized by NBA legend Charles Barkley for his shot selection.
However, that is an indirect result of not playing with a true point guard. Wembanyama has also received criticism for inconsistent play and slow starts to games, but that is also a byproduct of not starting an actual point guard.
So what can be done? The easiest option would be to coach Popovich to pull the plug on the experiment and start backup point guard Tre Jones. Jones, while a low-level starter, is a good passer and seldom turns the ball over, but given their team’s struggles with each, he’d be a big upgrade. In fact, Jones has a plus 4.1 net rating compared to Sochan’s -20.5 net rating.
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.
Putting the ball in his hands would help the Spurs offense get back on track. Popovich could still continue his point-Sochan experiment by having him share playmaking responsibilities with Malaki Branham in the second unit. That would take pressure off of Sochan, allow the Spurs to get off to better starts, and help Wembanyama and Vassell get easier shots.