Despite numerous reports that the Sixers were looking to trade their first round pick in the 2021 NBA draft, Philadelphia surveyed their options and determined that selecting guard Jaden Springer out of the University of Tennessee was, indeed, the best course of action. “We had offers [to trade the pick]. We preferred Jaden,” President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey told reporters just moments after the draft’s conclusion.
“So, we were excited about Jaden and thought he was a great fit and pretty rare to have a guy, especially at 28, who has already demonstrated a strong level of play in college before age nineteen. So, we just thought that that combination was too unique to pass up.”
The Sixers’ excitement about the young prospect could certainly be genuine. Still, they’re operating on a win-now timeframe.
That mandate implies that Springer likely does not have the luxury of being able to learn through failure in real NBA minutes. So, the questions that need to be answered revolve around what Springer can do immediately, and whether he will see more of Delaware or Philadelphia in his rookie campaign.
You can never have enough shooting in the modern NBA. If your shooting isn’t going to meet the standards of a 3-and-D role, your playmaking must be able to compensate. Jaden Springer’s barely-positive assist-to-turnover ratio and shot-to-assist ratio of higher than 3.1:1 on less than ten field goal attempts per game while at Tennessee are indicators that he’s not much of a playmaker yet.
Springer connected on better than 43 percent of his three-point attempts in his lone season at Tennessee. However, he attempted just 1.8 triples in nearly 26 minutes of play per game. Springer will tell you he should’ve been more liberal in letting them fly.
“I feel like I definitely should’ve took more threes,” Springer said during his introductory press conference. “But I was just sticking to the game plan and our system, the way the team was set up. So, my role wasn’t to take a bunch of threes. So, I was just trying to stick to that.”
Perhaps Springer would’ve proven his ability as a shooter on higher volume. But, there would be reasonable skepticism about whether his sustained success on higher volume would translate at the NBA level.
Some of that skepticism lies in Springer’s shooting mechanics.
Although Springer converts this attempt, the rigidity in his shooting motion makes it difficult to project how a consistent off-the-dribble game will develop. The numbers support that concern, as he connected on just better than 27 percent of his non-three-point attempts off the dribble.
Shot Selection And Creation Ability
The efficiency, or lack thereof, on those attempts is not a shocker. Springer’s shot selection off the dribble leaves much to be desired. That shot selection grade will improve once his shot-creating repertoire develops and his body gets stronger. Right now, though, his moves are predictable and the ball looks very heavy in his hands.
The lack of “bag”, as the kids would say, is not an issue that is overly concerning. Both that and the physical strength will develop in due time. What’s more concerning is that Springer lacks the athletic pop and strong step needed to create space.
Perhaps that athleticism will develop over time. As Morey re-iterated throughout his post-draft press conference, the guard is only 18 years old. But, time is a currency that Springer’s offensive game needs. It is not a currency of which the Sixers have much.
Shooting Off The Catch
It’s not fair to have expectations of immediate, high-level shot-creation out of the third-to-last pick of the first round. It’s reasonable that the rookie guard requires a screen to get enough separation from his defender to let it rip. But, the catch-and-shoot proficiency should be readily available, right?
Well, Springer connected on worse than 36 percent of his shots off the catch at Tennessee. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in where Springer’s shooting truly is at this stage of his career.
Right now, it seems realistic that his three-point efficiency at Tennessee was more luck than touch, rather than the other way around. There’s nothing wrong with that. Teenagers drafted late in the first round are often very raw. In fact, Morey is optimistic that his shooting will develop.
“He made a very high percentage of his threes in college, but often the volume will tell you a little bit more. We think shooting will be something that, probably, right out of the gate we wouldn’t expect him to come in and bang forty percent of NBA threes,” Morey said on draft night.
“But, we know he’s a worker. We know he has the ability. We know he can do things. He has touch around the rim and can make free throws. All those things often indicate someone who can shoot later.”
That’s fine, probably even to be expected. It just isn’t promising for Springer’s prospects of helping the Sixers in the 2021-22 season.
The good news is that he’s well aware of what he needs to work on. “For the most part, I’ve really been working on my shot and my handle,” Springer said during his introductory press conference. “That’s probably two of the biggest things, and my explosiveness. Been getting in the weight room and gym, stuff like that.”
Scoring At The Rim
Morey is correct in his assertion that touch around the rim in college is often an indicator of how a player’s shooting will develop at the professional level. That should give everyone some confidence about Springer’s ceiling as a shooter. He connected on 64 of 118 attempts within the restricted area at Tennessee, and got to the free throw line for 100 attempts.
Springer isn’t afraid of playing through contact, either. “Off rip, I feel like I’ll be able to bring some toughness and physicality on both ends of the court,” the rookie guard said last Saturday. “I also feel like I can be a secondary playmaker, whatever you need me to do. I come in, I feel like I can shoot the ball. So, whatever the team would need, I feel like I can come in and make that step.”
He’s not fast enough to leverage off-ball cutting on a consistent basis. But, Springer can help the Sixers with the occasional drive off the catch or transition bucket in 3-on-2, 2-on-1 scenarios right now.
That knack for playing through contact should translate to a high volume of free throws, especially for a guard, once Springer adds some muscle mass.
While Springer feels he can offer secondary playmaking, the clip above casts some doubt on that being a reality in his rookie season. Springer’s tendency to jump off both feet limits his vertical pop and make it difficult for him to finish above the rim. That tendency also restricts his ability to make plays as a ball-handler.
That inclination to jump off both feet to complete plays confines the handler to emergency decisions and results in forced reads that simply aren’t there. Such limitations make it easy to see why Springer averaged nearly as many turnovers as assists in college.
Springer isn’t a reliable ball-handler at this point in his career, either. He can make simple reads when he senses extended pressure coming in the half-court. But if a singular defender gets into his space, or multiple defenders converge with speed, Springer is often over-powered, left scrambling, and out of control.
Again, NBA-level motor and strength will help resolve that issue. But, Springer shouldn’t even have the ball in his hands in such situations right now.
The defensive side of the ball is where much of the early optimism surrounding Springer lies. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan, Springer has the positional size to be a dependable on-ball defender immediately. That he might not be done growing is encouraging for his prospects of being a three- or four-position defender. But, that viability will become clearer with time.
His low center of gravity enables him to dig into a strong defensive stance. Springer also has strong habits as a ball defender. He moves with quick, choppy steps that enable him to stay in front of ball-handlers.
Those habits help him make legitimate contests on shooters, both off the catch and on the drive. “It’s just something I’ve always done since a little kid. I always have been able to play defense and stuff like that. I feel like it really comes natural,” Springer told reporters in the days following the draft.
Those habits aren’t the only reason Springer should be a helpful defender from day one. He has incredibly quick hands, and he leverages them to time deflections perfectly.
The quick hands, in conjunction with his aforementioned habits, allow him to disrupt ball-handlers and generate transition opportunities for his team.
Springer is an immediate depth upgrade when it comes to optionality in guarding individual matchups at either guard spot. His team defense, while promising in its developmental arc, needs some time.
He generally tracks his man very well when away from the ball. Springer will occasionally get burned as a result of ball-watching. But, those episodes typically come when he’s played heavy minutes and fatigue has set in. So, that shouldn’t be a common problem in Springer’s rookie campaign.
The real concern with his team defense involves fighting over screens. His lack of muscle mass enables offenses to peel his assignment away and create space with singular screens.
That is extremely problematic for Springer’s ability to contribute immediately. The NBA is characterized by switch-heavy defensive schemes. If he isn’t strong enough to battle through screens, the Sixers will be forced to switch every action in which he’s involved. Perhaps Springer won’t be playing enough minutes for the issue to matter in his rookie year. But, the result of those switches is going to be Springer isolated against a star perimeter player or mismatched with a much bigger player close to the basket.
Defensive coachability is going to be the first step towards Springer earning a long leash on the court. He appears to have the right mindset on that front. “For anybody coming into the league, definitely be a learning curve. There’s going to be a lot of learning and just trying to soak up all the information you can, especially coming straight into the league,” the rookie guard said during his introductory press conference.
Drafting For Upside
Jaden Springer was one of three rookies the Sixers drafted last week. That was a stark contrast from what the expected reality was. Whether Daryl Morey would admit to shopping the picks or not, he seems to like the upside he acquired. “I know GMs get killed for talking about upside, but he’s [Springer] not nineteen yet. Already a productive player at Tennessee. We feel good about his ability to be a 3-and-D player in this league. We all know how valuable they are,” Morey said in the early morning hours following the draft.
“He was a top high school recruit, which I think often points to it’s a good pool of players to pick from. That’s a bit of a theme of the two US guys we picked from. Although, Filip has played in the US in the past. We’re really excited about Jaden. Position where you can see a path to him potentially getting on the floor. Usually, it takes a rookie more than a year. But, you never know.”
That might seem like GM-speak for “he’s going to spend a lot of time in Delaware”. And, it probably is.