February 27, 2024

SAN ANTONIO — It was tough for San Antonio Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan to find plenty to laugh about in a season that produced another double-digit loss for his team on Tuesday night.

Somehow, everyone seems to find something funny whenever Sochan steps to the foul line for a free throw.

The 130-118 loss the Utah Jazz gave the Spurs at Frost Bank Center left them at 4-25 with too many of those losses tied to the team’s experiment with the 6-foot-8 Sochan as the starting point guard.

That practice was deemed a failure and scrapped with Sochan back at forward in a starting lineup that is causing rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama at center and sophomore guard Malachi Branham on the point.

However, a previous experiment with Sochan remains a great success: His peculiar one-handed free-throw form makes almost everyone smile.

With a form that may be unique in the history of the game, the only time Sochan touches the basketball with his left hand is when he uses both hands to catch it when thrown by a referee. Then, so quickly one can hardly notice, he places his right hand under the ball while simultaneously releasing his left hand and immediately begins his shooting stroke. Complete with a picture-perfect release, the new form produced dramatic improvement that Gregg Popovich appreciates and Sochan’s teammates marvel at.

After making both free throws after being fouled Tuesday night, Sochan is 112 of 148 from the line in the 62 games he’s played since switching to the one-handed shot, a healthy 75.7 percent.

Jeremy Sochan’s free throws this season

Date Opponent FT FTA PCT

25 Oct

against Mavericks

3

6

50%

27 Oct

against rockets

4

4

100%

31 Oct

at Suns

2

3

67%

10 Nov

against Timberwolves

1

2

50%

Nov 12

against heat

2

2

100%

Nov 17

against kings

1

2

50%

Nov 18

against Grizzlies

5

6

83%

Nov 20

against Clippers

2

2

100%

Nov 22

against Clippers

5

6

83%

Nov 30

against Falcons

6

6

100%

December 1st

at Pelicans

3

4

75%

December 13

against Lakers

0

2

0%

December 15th

against Lakers

1

1

100%

December 17th

vs. Pelicans

3

4

75%

December 19

at Bucks

1

2

50%

December 23

at Mavericks

1

2

50%

December 26

vs. Jazz

2

2

100%

Totals

42

56

75%

He is not Steph Curry (career 91.0 percent), but neither is he Andrew Drummond (career 47.8 percent).

He’s also not the first one-handed free throw shooter NBA history. In particular, Hall of Famers Bob Pettit (76.1 percent) and Oscar Robertson (83.8 percent) shot their free throws one-handed. So did Don Nelson (76.5 percent), a member of five Boston Celtics NBA title teams and, importantly for Sochan, one of Popovich’s head coaches of Spurs Hall of Fame’s most valued mentors.

During Popovich’s two seasons as an assistant on Nelson’s Golden State Warriors coaching staff in 1992-93 and 1993-94, he saw Nelson help some challenged shooters by having them use just one hand to improve their shooting strokes. This made Popovich a proponent of lap doctor Nelson’s teaching technique.

Sochan’s one-handed free throw has been a revelation since he first made it in a game last season against the Fire arrows on December 19, 2022 in Houston. Then he played game no. 23 of his rookie season after making just 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) free throws. But Popovich and his veteran assistant, Brett Brown, worked with the then 19-year-old to change everything about his approach to shooting fouls.

“Jeremy was in the tank, 45 percent,” Popovich recalled recently. “I talked to Brett and said, ‘What are we going to do with this guy?’ He had so many weird movements (after his shot) that we decided, ‘Let’s just let him do it with one hand and see how he feels about it.’ “

It didn’t take long for Popovich and Brown to convince Sochan to give the one-handed shot a three. He disliked his terrible free-throw percentage even more than the coaches, admitting it was embarrassing, which helped Popovich pitch to Sochan to give it a shot.

“The biggest downside to it is that most guys would probably be embarrassed because they want to do it in front of the whole world,” Popovich said. “That was our biggest concern, so I went to him and said, ‘What do you think about this? I don’t want to put you in a weird situation and if you don’t want to try, we won’t. But, it might be easier to control and let’s just look at it.’

“He did it, and I don’t know if instant is the right word, but pretty quickly he made them and it was a much more consistent stroke than he had before. So, we just stuck with it and said, let’s see how he would do with it over five games, 10 games, whatever. Success just kept coming and now he is comfortable with it.”

When Popovich began preaching the virtues of the one-handed free throw, he discovered that Sochan was already a member of the choir.

“I went through a bad stretch where I didn’t make enough of them,” Sochan said. “I was ready to try anything.”

The process began near the basket, with one-handed spins to get Sochan comfortable with the feel of the release. Finally, the shots were from longer distances and finally from the foul line.

“I practiced a lot, up close, with one hand, form well,” Sochan recalled. “We kept bringing it back to the free throw line, then close back before going back to the free throw line until it started working well in practice.

“So, then it was, ‘Why not try it in a game?’ “

The first experiment was a mini-failure, but it produced a small change that made a world of difference.

“Well, the first game wasn’t the best,” Sochan said, painfully recalling his 1-of-4 foul shooting against the Rockets. “It was very new to me, and I didn’t know how that very first attempt would go.

“The first time I was muzzled, I looked at Coach Pop and he just smiled at me and nodded his head. So, I just said, ‘W— it, just do it.’ But the one thing I noticed when I first did it, I dribbled the ball twice and my pickup was different, so it didn’t feel as good and I kind of rushed it.

“The next game in New Orleans I explained (to Popovich and Brown) why I wasn’t going to dribble at all. Just take a deep breath, hold my hand and bring the ball up in just one movement.”

Popovich thankfully endorsed the quicker, no-dribble release.

Less thinking, more success.


Jeremy Sochan endures some derision from opponents and fans when he attempts his one-handed free throws. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Yeah, now he just takes a breath and shoots it,” Popovich said. “We all know that taking too much time on a shot usually results in no success.”

Sochan made 7 of 10 the first time he used his no-dribble technique, starting a 12-game stretch in which he made 24 of 29 (82.7 percent) free throws.

“So, it became my thing, and I’m really glad it is because I went from 45 percent to 70-something,” Sochan said.

Sochan endures some taunting by opponents stationed courtside as he attempts free throws.

“Oh yes, of course,” Sochan said. “Someone on the opposing team will say, like, ‘What the f—?’

“But, it goes in. It is what it is and results count.”

In particular. Spurs fans enjoyed Sochan’s free-throw style, cheering when he was fouled and rejoicing when he made both shots. It has become a “thing” at Spurs games, enough for the company that produces the team’s iconic TV commercials for the HEB grocery chain to write a spot that will air this season starring Sochan, alongside Wembanyama , Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson.

In the short spot, Sochan completes several one-handed tasks with various HEB products: cracking an egg like a short-order chef, opening a jumbo bag of potato chips with a doll, delivering a platter full of plates of food , a jar of salsa and sliding it down a table top, all to the surprise of his co-star teammates.

“One hand,” said Wembanyama.

“He just can’t turn it off,” Vassell adds.

However, there is one thing Sochan is desperate not to achieve single-handedly: counting the number of Spurs wins.

(Top photo of Sochan: Jed Jacobsohn / NBAE via Getty Images)


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