With the NBA Draft rapidly approaching, Portland Trail Blazers fans are keeping their eyes on potential lottery picks that could be PNW-bound later this summer. We spoke to Our Daily Bears men’s basketball editor Michael Nichols to talk about Baylor Bears standout power forward Jeremy Sochan.
Thank you Michael for participating in our Q&A.
1. The Blazers hold the no. 7 pick in the draft. Is that where you believe Jeremy Sochan should go in this upcoming draft?
At the start of the season, everyone thought Kendall Brown would be the player talked about as a potential top-10 pick. Sochan at that point was thinking of being a solid college player with the potential to be a high-level starter for several seasons. As Baylor got into Big XII play, however, it became evident that Sochan possessed a level of poise, polish, and confidence that Brown didn’t yet possess. Clearly, time in Europe playing against grown men had prepared Sochan for the level of physicality needed in conference play. By the time Baylor was battling back from a 25-point deficit against North Carolina in the Round of 32, Sochan was playing the crunch time minutes, not Brown.
Looking down the list of No. 7 picks over the last couple of decades, Sochan certainly has the potential to fulfill the promise of being a top-10 pick. He’s got all the requisite characteristics of a guy who can stick in the league as a rotation player and potentially a high-level starter, which is about the expected return from a pick in the 7-10 range. He’s tough, intelligent, versatile, and a great teammate. And young. He just turned 19 on May 20th, so he will be one of the younger players in the draft. It’s tough to hope for more with a pick in this range, particularly in this 2022 draft class.
2. Sochan averaged 9.2 points per game this season. The number doesn’t jump off the page, but what can you say about Sochan that won’t be found in a box score?
Before noting what’s not in the box score, I’ll point out a couple of things that we can find in a box score that point to Sochan rise in Baylor rotation. If you look at his splits over each month, two trends stick out. First, his minutes per game ticked upward each consecutive month. Second, all of his stats in the month of March show a player who had stepped up in the biggest moments. In March, he had his highest FGA per game of any month by a significant 4 shots per game. Sochan also had his highest per game stats of any month in rebounds, steals, blocks, and free throw attempts. All of those increases point to a player taking on an increased role late in the season in high-leverage moments. That’s the sort of thing you love to see in a pro prospect.
Beyond the story of those stats, though, the thing that best points to the type of player Sochan can be is probably his performance in the game against UNC guarding Armando Bacot. Now, Bacot certainly got his that game. Sochan, though, did everything in his power to get under Bacot’s skin and throw him out of rhythm. All game long, Sochan was “playing through the whistle,” shoving, grinding, reaching, and generally being a pest at all times. From curtsied, it was evident that Bacot was taken back by how physically Sochan was, and that in part led to Bacot’s own foul trouble, which helped Baylor erase that 25 point lead in the second half.
To me, that is how Sochan will have to play to stick in the league. He brings the type of grit and aggression that teammates can feed off of, and he’s not afraid of anyone. Would UNC fans accuse Sochan of being a dirty player? Likely, but he’s just the sort of player that you love to have on your team and hate to see playing for the other guy.
3. What will Sochan’s biggest weakness be on the NBA level?
Early on, shooting may be an issue for Sochan. His numbers from deep weren’t great this season. He has a bit of a set shot that can take him time to unfurl. Sochan also doesn’t have much of a pull-up game. Any jumpers he takes, much less makes, will have to be created for him by others. Next to Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons, that might not be much a of issue. But Sochan doesn’t project as a go-to scorer. He’s more of a connector.
To give some comfort, I do think Sochan has the ability to adjust when defense start daring him to shoot by sinking off him. He’s not afraid to attack the space, put his back to the basket, and suck in the defense to create a passing opportunity. As long as Chauncey Billups gives Sochan the green light to get to the mid-post, he should be able to make up for his lack of jumper. He’ll have to be careful about turnovers once NBA defenders figure out his go-to spin move, though.
4. If everything goes right, what is Sochan’s ceiling in the NBA?
If everything goes right, Sochan is a starter on a championship team averaging 16 points, 8 boards, 2-3 assists, and a steal while defending the opposing team’s best wing as a small-ball four. Or something like that. He’ll bring a toughness and grit that is necessary and suited for playoff basketball and will elevate the play of the star players around him. I think all-star is a bit above his ceiling, but he could appear on an all-defensive team one day.
5. What do you think is Sochan’s likeliest career trajectory in the NBA? Is there an NBA player he reminds you of?
As I was looking at a list of previous No. 7 picks, the name Luol Deng stood out to me. Sochan is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Deng was at Duke, but they have some comparable stat lines as college players, though Deng was certainly more of a feature at Duke than Sochan was at Baylor. Beyond stats and physical profile, though, I think Sochan and Deng play with a similar mentality. Put it this way: if Sochan ever ends up playing for Tom Thibodeau, he might average 40 minutes a game. He’s just got that grinding, reliable style that coaches of Thib’s type will love. Sochan’s also got the same versatility that Deng displayed playing for the Bulls. And if the Trailblazers were to end up with Luol Deng 2.0 to finally fill the gap at the wing that’s plagued them since the Nic Batum era ended in Portland, I think they’d be thrilled with that.