A late Jaden Springer turnover left the Sixers short against the Memphis Grizzlies, 103-99, in both teams’ first Summer League game in Salt Lake City.
The Grizzlies started Kennedy Chandler, Ziaire Williams, Jake LaRavia, Santi Aldama, and Xavier Tillman.
The Sixers started Cassius Winston, Jaden Springer, Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, and Charles Bassey.
Paul Reed was easily the best player on the court, putting forth 20 points and 15 rebounds — 7 of which came on the offensive glass — in 31 minutes. Perhaps you expect a guy heading into his third NBA season to dominate Summer League games, and you’d be justified in setting a high standard. But, Reed could’ve come in with the mindset that he was too old or too good for Summer League and taken a passive approach. Instead, he looked motivated to prove himself and played with his usual energy.
He had soft touch on his floater and his jumper, When Reed put the ball on the deck, he showed improved footwork and was strong with the ball. He looked capable of actually playing outside of the box that centers typically play within, a tendency that sent him to the bench for prolonged sentences in his first two seasons. Reed did commit 5 turnovers, a byproduct of trying to do too much. But, his role with the big league club is going to be simplified enough where he won’t be in a position to commit 5 turnovers.
Defensively, Reed swarmed the ball. He didn’t just play up on assignments; he approached them appropriately. If a guy wanted to attack left, Reed angled his body when he played up to take away lefty attacks and force him right. While many of Reed’s teammates blew defensive rotations that allowed Memphis to uncork open threes, Reed appeared poised and calm, showing a comfort with the team’s defensive concepts. Reed’s M.O. is being the one who makes playing with energy look like a skill, and that trait was front and center on Tuesday.
If you want a barometer of Jaden Springer’s developmental arc and work ethic, look no further than the progression in his shooting mechanic. In his one year of college and rookie Summer League, Springer looked like he was shot-putting a bowling ball at the basket. He had feathery touch around the free throw line, but wasn’t even close to an NBA player anywhere else on the offensive end of the floor.
The offense is still a significant work in progress, but Springer’s jumper looks much smoother than it did a year ago. He doesn’t tempt fate in crowds or load up from three unless he’s wide open, but Springer looked experienced with getting a defender on his back, poking his butt out to measure the rear space, and rising up for a midrange jumper off the dribble. He only went to it once, but he looked more sure of it than any jumper he took last Summer League.
What is abundantly clear is that Springer is more than ready for the NBA game on defense. He’s got springs in his legs despite underwhelming from a frame standpoint. There was one play in the first half in which Springer got stripped by the Sixers’ three-point line, sprinted back in transition, and tomahawk-spiked a Grizzlies layup attempt as a foul was called. He doesn’t have the length to over-gamble in help and recover back to his man, but Springer is an absolute wall as a ball defender. Springer gave Grizzlies across multiple positions fits as they tried to take advantage of his lack of height. Whether it was strips or just staying in front of them and sticking from spot to spot long enough to tire them out and force a loose ball, Springer was perhaps the best defensive player on the floor.
Taking a brief look at some other guys, Grant Riller is as fluid a scorer as you’ll see on the fringes of the NBA. He glides to the rim for layups as if the seas are parting and then hesitation-dribbles his way into silky pull-up jumpers. Riller’s load into his jumper is a bit pronounced, a valid reason to think he’ll struggle to get it off in the NBA at his size deficit without creating significant space or fading as part of his natural motion. But, he undoubtedly has a natural scoring game at some professional level — whether it’s in the NBA or elsewhere.
Mike Foster Jr. has some interesting upside. He’s comfortable pulling the trigger from the perimeter and has good positional size. Foster also had a couple of stout possessions as a ball defender. There’s something there worth taking a flyer on, whether it be at the G-League level or above.
It might’ve been a touch of rust from not having played a real, organized game in quite some time, but Charles Bassey had problems gripping the ball early in the game. He scuffled over loose balls that careened his way and lost his dribble a few times. If he weren’t a big, it would be much easier to chalk that up to rust. But, bigs typically struggle with hand-eye coordination more than any other position does.
As much development as Springer showed in his shooting mechanic, he has a long way to go to transform his body and offensive skills. Springer gets engulfed pretty easily and turned away when a single help defender slides over in rotation. And if he persists with the drive, he finds himself getting overpowered and stripped as he attacks the basket.
Yet, he’ll have moments in which he attacks the rim at the right angle, with only a single defender pressuring his hip, and he’ll power through contact for a finish and a foul. It’s Summer League, and being overly harsh in criticism feels unnecessary unless the guy absolutely stinks in every way. But, Springer is going to have to find consistency in his strength. Looking only slightly better in his second Summer League isn’t exactly encouraging.
The Sixers (0-1) will play the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 PM, Eastern time. You can watch the action on ESPN2.