Spurs’ Jeremy Sochan finds success with quirky one-handed free-throw style

SAN ANTONIO — It has been difficult for San Antonio Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan to find much to laugh about in a season that on Tuesday night produced yet another double-digit loss for his team.

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

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

That exercise has been deemed a failure and scrapped with Sochan back at forward in a starting lineup that puts rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama at center and second-year guard Malaki Branham at the point.

However, a prior experiment with Sochan continues to be a rousing success: His quirky one-handed free-throw form makes nearly everyone smile.

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

After making both free throws after being fouled on Tuesday night, Sochan is 112 of 148 from the line in the 62 games he has 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

Oct. 25

vs. Mavericks

3

6

50%

Oct. 27

vs. Rockets

4

4

100%

Oct. 31

at Suns

2

3

67%

Nov. 10

vs. Timberwolves

1

2

50%

Nov. 12

vs. Heat

2

2

100%

Nov. 17

vs. Kings

1

2

50%

Nov. 18

vs. Grizzlies

5

6

83%

Nov. 20

vs. Clippers

2

2

100%

Nov. 22

vs. Clippers

5

6

83%

Nov. 30

vs. Hawks

6

6

100%

Dec. 1

at Pelicans

3

4

75%

Dec. 13

vs. Lakers

0

2

0%

Dec. 15

vs. Lakers

1

1

100%

Dec. 17

vs. Pelicans

3

4

75%

Dec. 19

at Bucks

1

2

50%

Dec. 23

at Mavericks

1

2

50%

Dec. 26

vs. Jazz

2

2

100%

Totals

42

56

75%

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

He also is not the first one-handed free-throw shooter in NBA history. Notably, Hall of Famers Bob Pettit (76.1 percent) and Oscar Robertson (83.8 percent) shot their free throws with one hand. So did Don Nelson (76.5 percent), a member of five Boston Celtics NBA title teams and, importantly for Sochan, one of Spurs Hall of Fame head coach Popovich’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 watched Nelson help a few challenged shooters by having them use only one hand to improve their shooting strokes. It made Popovich an advocate of shot doctor Nelson’s teaching technique.

Sochan’s one-handed free throw has been a revelation since he first used it in a game last season against the Rockets on Dec. 19, 2022, in Houston. Then, he entered game No. 23 of his rookie season having made only 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) free throws. But, Popovich and his veteran assistant, Brett Brown, had been working with the then-19-year-old to change everything about his approach to foul shooting.

“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 much extraneous motion (to his shot) we decided, ‘Let’s just have him do it one-handed and see how he feels about it.’ ”

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

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

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

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

“I was going through a bad stretch where I wasn’t making enough of them,” Sochan said. “I was ready to try anything.”

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

“I was practicing a lot, up-close, one-handed, form stuff,” Sochan recalled. “We kept on bringing it back to the free-throw line, then back up close before then going back to the free-throw line until it started working good in practice.

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

The first experiment was a mini-failure but it brought about 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 try would go.

“The first time I got fouled I looked over at Coach Pop and he was just smiling at me, nodding his head. So, I just said, ‘F— it, just do it.’ But, the one thing I noticed when I did it the first time, I had 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, have my hand set and just bring the ball up in one motion.”

Popovich happily endorsed the quicker, no-dribble release.

Less thinking, greater success.


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

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

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

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

Sochan endures a bit of mocking by opponents stationed along the lane as he attempts free throws.

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

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

In particular. Spurs fans came to relish Sochan’s free-throw style, cheering when he was fouled and rejoicing when he made both shots. It became a “thing” at Spurs games, enough for the company that produces the team’s iconic TV commercials for the H-E-B grocery chain to write a spot being aired this season that features Sochan as star, along with Wembanyama, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson.

In the brief spot, Sochan completes several one-handed tasks with various H-E-B products: cracking an egg like a short-order chef, opening a jumbo bag of potato chips with a pop, delivering a platter heaped high with plates of food, opening a jar of salsa and sliding it down a tabletop, all to the amazement of his co-star teammates.

“One hand,” Wembanyama says.

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

However, there is one thing Sochan desperately wants to be incapable of accomplishing with one hand: counting the number of Spurs victories.

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