Date: 03/29/2024

Spurs’ Jeremy Sochan is quietly turning into one of the NBA’s toughest defenders

Late Monday night at the Frost Bank Center, Jeremy Sochan found himself at the center of a euphoric celebration. He’d just buried a game-winning 3-pointer to deliver the Spurs a 104-102 win over the Suns, capping a breakout 26-point, 18-rebound performance in the absence of injured star Victor Wembanyama.

The cathartic triple that snapped an 0-for-16 stretch from deep featured in all the highlights from the Spurs’ season series-clinching win over Phoenix. Afterwards, coach Gregg Popovich made it a point to highlight Sochan’s tenacious work on the other side of the ball, most notably against future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant. 

“KD is such a difficult matchup for everybody,” Popovich said. “He is one of the greatest ever and Jeremy never stopped working his butt off. He was very physical and did everything he could to guard a great player. He also hit the boards for us. He was very special.”

Durant shot 12 of 17 on his way to 29 points that night in San Antonio. But Sochan made the Suns’ masterful 6-foot-11 playmaker sweat for every bucket, and Durant seemed to run out of steam with just five points on six shots and one turnover in the decisive fourth quarter.

Overall, Suns players scored just 14 points on 6 of 15 when defended by the feisty 6-8, 230-pound Sochan. Durant and his All-NBA teammate Devin Booker combined for 12 points on 5 of 11 with two turnovers when matched up against the Spurs’ second-year forward. 

Though Sochan remains prone to drastic game-to-game swings on offense, his versatility and fortitude on the other end has helped the Spurs go from a defensive doormat to a respectable, occasionally stingy unit. 

Since February’s All-Star break, opponents are shooting 5.7% below their season average when guarded by Sochan, the seventh-best differential among 47 players who defend at least 14 shots per game (minimum eight games played). Even with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Wembanyama sidelined for three contests this month, the Spurs own the league’s 14th-best defensive rating (113.1) since the break. In 55 games prior to the break, the Spurs ranked 23rd with a 117.5 defensive rating. 

“It’s the same as every game,” Sochan said of sticking the opposing team’s top offensive threats. “Defend the best players, get into them a little bit, just make it difficult for somebody like that, players that are going to end up being legendary, so it’s just making it as difficult as you can.”

Sochan played his role to a tee again Wednesday night as the Spurs beat Utah 118-111 to earn consecutive wins for just the fifth time this season. He finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and a career-best five steals and led the Spurs with eight deflections, two loose ball recoveries and seven contested 3-pointers, per NBA tracking data.

“Jeremy has been playing great on the defensive end,” said guard Devin Vassell, who led the Spurs with 31 points in Salt Lake City. 

And that stellar defense has come against foes of all shapes and sizes, whether it be Utah’s speedy 6-3 point guard Collin Sexton or his towering teammate. 

Sochan muscled up to mitigate the size difference between himself and All-Star 7-footer Lauri Markkanen, making the Jazz’s leading scorer labor to score 12 points on 5 of 11 in their individual matchup. Overall, the Jazz shot 10 of 21 against Sochan, who continues to raise his profile as one of the league’s most irksome defenders.

“I think it’s just remembering what they like, what they don’t like, how they like being guarded,” Sochan said. “Watching even other players guard them, especially in the playoffs, because playoffs are a different level, especially with how aggressive people are. You see how some players don’t like it when you are up against them and making it difficult for them to dribble the ball. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But it’s just reading and reacting to who I am guarding and learning from them.”

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