NBA Draft

Springer Should Spring Into Teams’ Top Tens

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IMG Academy product Jaden Springer is one of the more polarizing prospects this season.

The mean-mugging two-way guard is beloved by draft Twitter, yet fails to inspire the same from large outlets. He plays with as much ferocity on the defensive end as any 18-year-old perimeter player.

Though a tad undersized at 6’4″, Jaden was an absolute force on both ends of the court. As an impactful guard all over the floor who works hard and has definite smarts, coaches will be banging the table to get him onto their squads.

The question is, how early are they willing to pull the trigger?

Defense

It’s hard to pick a defining skill for Springer because he does so much, so well. What will translate first and foremost, though, is defense. He has sublime footwork, lateral quickness and the technique to put himself in advantageous situations. Players rarely get by him on the perimeter and his lapses in focus are few and far between.

He’s strong, balanced on the perimeter, and keeps his feet moving constantly. Springer has a penchant for putting other players in bad spots. His marks constantly ran into turnovers and offensive fouls because Springer forced them there. A player like him with a clear understanding of how to use his physical strengths to mask his weaknesses will be consistently playing above his head on defense (no pun intended).

His only weak point defensively is in the pick and roll, which is a bit of a theme in his game. He does well at eluding screens and choosing to hedge or blitz, but his feel for when the pick is coming needs some work. As a smaller guard, a well-set screen can erase him at times.

Everything about Springer’s defensive game, however, is built for modern NBA guard defense. His smart, controlled contests and incredible positioning led to opponents shooting 29% against him, and a paltry 24% on spot-ups. Springer not only has the tools to be a top backcourt defender against all kinds of guards, but he also has the smarts and the competitive fire to do so.

He could be a team’s primary point-of-attack defender from the jump and perform. Unlike Patrick Beverley, when Springer is running around, he’s doing something. Bless you, Russell Westbrook.

Offense

At times, Springer was a frustrating player to watch offensively. He gets perimeter shots easily off the ball, and has the strength and handle to get looks and finish them around the rim. A guard converting 64% of his looks at the rim and 46% of his threes has offensive dynamo written all over him, right?

In most cases, yes, but Springer has an aggravating tendency to hunt out his own shot in the midrange. He was a strong catch-and-shoot player, yet took more than twice as many jumpers off the dribble as he did off the catch. A lack of playmaking around him certainly didn’t help, as Springer was the default playmaker at times before he was comfortable doing so. Getting the chance to develop that part of his game is important, but it wasn’t always pretty.

Pick and roll was a struggle for Springer, and again, the shot-hunting hurt his efficiency. He seemed to be so focused on getting those looks that he missed easy reads, and tunnel vision on PnR is a big no-no. Even when he was playing with more balance, his feel for that space and when to execute reads felt off. Having the ability to handle the ball decently gives hope for better results, but Springer’s playmaking may be the skill teams have to wait on.

What they won’t have to wait on is his shooting. Though he only took 39 treys (again, no playmaking) he made a tidy 18 for a 46% clip. This is a man who has clearly watched Klay Thompson shoot the basketball, a LOT. His ability to gather, align his feet with his shoulders, and get his release off seems based on Golden State’s goateed sniper Klay Thompson.

There’s more than one way to create a strong release, but Klay’s is the purest.

Springer’s Swing Skill: Balance

Springer’s best skill offensively that gives him more upside than perceived is exceptional balance and strength. Donovan Mitchell was a similar prospect with ballet-like jumping skills, balance and a strong core. He too shed his undersized two-guard label to be the driving force behind the best team in the West. The ability to absorb contact without losing balance is what makes a smaller player a plus finisher.

Springer also has a good sense of movement, creating easier angles for passes with his feet and locating himself well. In a modern NBA offense requiring quick perimeter decisions, Springer should contribute right away with his ability as a twitchy movement shooter. He can and will punish you at the cup for overcommitting.

Not a fun guy to defend.

He doesn’t profile as a primary scorer at the next level, though it’s not impossible. This keeps him from moving even further up my board and gives teams an understandable hesitancy, but a strong secondary scorer who can self-create and make plays is always a plus.

Draft Stock

Smaller guards that aren’t dominant on the ball can be very tough to value high in the draft. The “landing spots” (likelihood of their high-end outcomes) are usually very small, yet Springer has such a unique package of smarts, athleticism and skills all over the floor that I can’t keep him down this list.

The last time I had this similar conundrum over Mitchell, I regretted not ranking him high enough. I won’t be making the same mistake twice, which is why Springer is sixth on my board. When a playoff team adds him to their core in the teens, they will be surprised with what they found.

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About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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