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Jaden Springer shooting form break down: Can Springer become a knockdown gunslinger?

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Tennessee v Oregon State Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

In 2021, the 76ers selected Jaden Springer 28th overall out of Tennessee. Springer, still just 18 years old until the end of next month, represents a bit of a shift. Before Daryl Morey came on board, the Sixers openly talked about looking for older prospects who might contribute right away. After selecting 20-year-old Tyrese Maxey in 2020, and now one of the youngest players in the entire draft in Springer, it would seem that Sixers’ team President Daryl Morey is looking for young players with more room to grow; players who might be able to contribute right away but offer tantalizing upside on the perimeter down the road.

Pencil in the defensive prowess

SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Alabama v Tennessee Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

This isn’t an overall breakdown — this is a shooting breakdown. But it should be noted what the Sixers might be getting if Springer can merely be a decent open-shot shooter on his rookie contract.

The Sixers paid a premium it might be said for Springer’s best gift: his point-of-attack defense. At 6-foot-3 and change, 202 pounds with a 6-7.75 wingspan, he probably doesn’t profile as a “switch anything” type defender. But if his defensive gifts translate, his quick change of direction, his sturdiness, his balance and burst will be assets even early on in his career.

He’s heavier than some standout defensive prospects were at his age. In some cases much sturdier. That extra pound-for-pound power might pay off.

A few comps to players who were similarly disruptive at a young age (a few of whom have helped their teams compete at the highest level) courtesy of Tankathon.com’s compare players machine:

This isn’t to suggest these are necessarily his likeliest comps. You may be able to think of some better ones. But there’s some context there. For example, his steal percentage is high and that’s a great sign, better than Josh Hart’s was. Hart has played his way into a near-$40m contract this offseason and represents the type of player every team covets now — and he doesn’t even shoot 35 percent from downtown.

Springer’s trainer Keith Williams has suggested his client could have a Marcus Smart-like impact on the lower (!!!) range of outcomes, though Smart was a whopping 6-4, 227 pounds as a rookie, a much bigger dude. I don’t necessarily agree with Williams that Springer will ever be quite that potent of a weapon defensively, but if he can machete through the maze of screens he’ll see then all roads will take us back to his jumper, forever the swing-skill.

Quick emotional trauma sidebar rant against NBA officiating

2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Let me break the bad news to you first. Sitting down?

Even if Springer as a rookie is one of the 10 best defenders on the planet and makes one of the All-NBA Defensive teams there’s a secret NBA rule that he has to be in intense foul trouble come playoff time. Ask Matisse Thybulle. Even with Thybulle’s stellar reputation as an absolute wrecking ball All-NBA disruptor, once the second round of the playoffs rolled around it looked as if the officials had never heard of him. In Game 3 against Atlanta, a crew of Courtney Kirkland, Zach Zarba, Kevin Scott fouled Mathief out in 17 minutes flat. If you didn’t know any better you’d think the league was trying to send a message about the type of hoops fans want to watch: perimeter scorers are the king, do not ever lay a finger on one.

If the Sixers have the audacity to deploy Springer in a big moment and he sneezes, the officials will eject him with a flagrant two foul, book it. They might even suspend him. But whether or not we’ll even get to see that familiar nightmare unfold will again depend on his jumper. OK, I feel better. Thanks for letting me vent.

Ad infinitum you will be wondering if a player the Sixers drafted can shoot.

“Let’s go.” “We can’t.” “Why not?” “We’re waiting for Godot.”― Samuel Beckett, ‘Waiting for Godot’

Shooting form

Tennessee v Oregon State Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

In Samuel Beckett’s epic play Waiting for Godot we might find themes relating to existentialism; shall we live by religion or burrow into the human condition? The play is vague and there have been infinite interpretations, a canonical Rorschach test for the reader. Godot (god!?) does not appear to be coming and yet Estragon and Vladamir (you and I?!) wait. In Sixersville, we understand this frayed existence. Shooters? Are they coming, or are we forever destined to wait?

Let’s try to find out.

Free throws

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Utah Jazz v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

In that picture of Springer preparing for a free throw above, three things jump out to me from this angle.

1) You can see he does prefer to shoot with a rather sizable “tilt,” see how his toes point to the left of the rim? That’s not bad, plenty of stars use one 2) He bends his knees a bit more on his free throws than other players, a big “load up,” — less ideal because he’s doing it to gain power for a very high release that isn’t always smooth during live gameplay 3) His shooting pocket is quite high, the ball hovers about mid-abdomen rather than the more common hip-dip.*

Furkan Korkmaz has a high shooting pocket and doesn’t need to dip to get a shot off, but he’s a stone-cold natural. If Springer struggles, he might consider lowering his shooting pocket to his left hip for more power and less need to take a big jump.

Jaden Springer shot 20 of 46 from three in his lone season at Tennessee, good for 43.5 percent. He wasn’t a high-volume shooter who appeared endlessly comfortable firing up triples, taking just 1.8 threes per game and 2.6 attempts per 36 minutes.

After the draft, Daryl Morey talked about how his low volume rate should temper expectations that his 43.5 three-point percentage might immediately translate. But his free throw (81/100, 81 percent) prowess hints at an ability to knock down open shots at the pro level eventually.

Per Ky Carlin, SixersWire:

“Obviously, a good track record in college but limited,” Morey explained. “Obviously, he made a very high percentage of his 3s in college, but often the volume will tell you a little bit more. We think his shooting will be something that probably right out of the gate is, we wouldn’t expect him to come in and bang 40% of NBA 3s, 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.”

So let’s move onto some film. I compiled a video of his free throws, trying to incorporate as many angles as I could find. Take a look at everything you notice.

What do you think?

  • Springer’s free throws are by far the best part of his current profile
  • His FT form is relatively smooth, it’s close to one motion (there is a hint of a pause)

Play the video above and you can see that the ball is pretty far away from Springer’s chest on the way up. Since he doesn’t lower the ball down to his hip he appears to be generating momentum by holding the ball further away from his body and bending his knees a lot. Then he brings it back towards his forehead, pauses a bit, eventually releasing from a higher than normal set-point.

Contrast in that clip above with George Hill (career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, 80 percent free throw shooter). Hill has a lower shooting pocket, and lower release (from in front of his face, not above his forehead) but it’s smoother, quicker and more reliable.

  • Still, Springer has very good touch on his FTAs. Morey is essentially saying ‘don’t pay too much attention to the small sample on low-volume 3 point percentage, pay attention to how good he is at just making an open shot from 15’ away; that’s why we’re making the bet we’re making here.’
  • Another angle on his tilt, toes pointed at the baseline official:
  • His right foot is in line with the center of the rim, whereas some players (like Joel Embiid I believe) appear to prefer the point between their feet to be centered
  • Springer brings the ball up from the left side of his body towards the eventual center at his set-point (that’s OK, KD does this too). Notice the ball still left of center as he nears his release point:
  • His final setpoint before the shot:

On a good day, this motion reminds me a little of Mikal Bridges’... Bridges has really long arms (7’1’’ wingspan) so the ball is far away from his chest on the way up, and then pretty high over his head upon release. You might see those qualities in Springer’s shot as well:

But there’s another comp who fits that description albeit with less fluidity in his form you’ll also know well:

Springer’s shot can look somewhere in between Bridges and T.J.’s to my eye. That there’s some variance at all means there’s room to grow as a shooter. He can eliminate his excess motion.

In the video of the free throws above, you can see that on the first of two his balance tends to be better. He knows he’s got another free throw coming, he’s not going anywhere so he follows through and freezes well. On the second of two, he can occasionally fade away a little bit (watch beginning at the one-minute mark) as his body prepares to head back on defense. Stay at that line and finish that shot, freeze through the make.

Catch and shoot attempts

BASKETBALL: JUNE 03 Pangos All-American Camp Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jaden Springer got off to a slow start in Summer League prompting some fans to groan. Oh no, do we have to worry about another perimeter player’s jump shot? Summer League Head Coach Brian Adams had this to say about the Charlotte native, per Justin Grasso, SI.com:

“He shoots it with a lot of arc,” Adams explained. “It could be an arc thing because sometimes when you shoot is super high, it ends up falling short.” Springer certainly isn’t the first player to enter the Sixers’ organization as a struggling shooter.”

Adams continues:

“So I think his jump shot, whether it’s coming up short because of lower, upper, I couldn’t tell you that right now. I’d have to go back and look. I think it’s just something that’s gonna keep coming along with his game. He’s got a tremendous work ethic. He’s proven he can make them, and so now we’ll just get this consistency up, and he’ll definitely tweak it in the gym, I’m sure.”

You can take a look at some catch-and-shoot attempts and form your own opinions.**

Sam Vecenie, writing for The Athletic on Springer’s “weaknesses”:

“Doesn’t always have a consistent release point. Plus, it’s a very stiff jumper. Doesn’t have a ton of fluidity getting into it as he really has to load up before taking it. Takes an extra split second for him to set.... Sometimes it’s off a pump fake, or a jab step, or just a slower decision to shoot. Gets contested a ton. Given how important shooting is at the next level, and how important it is for a game like this where he likes to try to open driving angles to try to finish, shooting is Springer’s absolute swing skill. He needs to revamp his upper half a bit to become more fluid.”

So we’ve seen that big “load up” Vecenie discusses he has where he really likes to bend his knees in order to get that ball off his chest, then up above his head. Vecenie would like him to “revamp” the “upper half.” I wonder if Coach Adams would have agreed there. Revamp seems a little extreme to me, maybe fine tune.

Other observations:

I found a couple of clips where it appears Springer is a rim or target watcher, his eyes in this high school attempt appear to remain focused on the rim for the full shot:

  • It appears in other shots he may watch the ball, there’s even a little unhelpful head movement (tilts back as he looks upwards at the ball) in this one below, I believe filmed in the weeks before the draft:

Remember former Sixers Assistant Lindsey Harding noticed Zhaire Smith making that same mistake once.

Another idiosyncrasy you might notice is that sometimes it appears his shooting wrist drifts off to the right on his follow-through. He either has a little bit of hyperextension in his right arm when fully extended or the angle of his wrist creates that illusion.

Sometimes upon release, his arm can appear to ‘snap’ back a bit then straighten out again. You saw some of that torque on his gorgeous step-back pull-up in Summer League clipped in the next section.

I found someone else on YouTube, “Basketball Coach Allen,” actually noticed the same thing:

Pull ups

Per Derek Bodner, of The Athletic, formerly of DraftExpress:

“The bigger concern is the shot selection. His shot quality inside the arc is straight-up bad, and it seems on a lot of them, he passed up a semi-open catch-and-shoot 3 to take a tougher pull-up jumper. He seems almost more comfortable with a pull-up jumper that he’s not particularly good at, and the indecision can lead to a lower shot quality than if he had just let it fly from the perimeter. He honestly reminds me a little bit of Josh Richardson in that regard.

The fact that Springer made 81 percent of his free throws in college, on a higher sample size than his 3-point attempts (81-100), bodes well and suggests that the touch is there, and the bad shot selection and deterioration of his form when taking those contested shots can be corrected over time.”

We saw that in the video above there are times Springer has a terrific look at a triple but doesn’t trust himself to get it off, even with a defender going under a screen; either that or trusting he can get to the rim or short pull up too much. Clearly, the Sixers have already talked to him about this because by that Hawks game during Summer League, he was taking contested pull-up triples like he was Seth Curry’s brother.

For the Sixers purposes this season, I don’t think this pull up game is going to be particularly relevant. He doesn’t necessarily have the length to finish over rangy defenders but his strength and athleticism may do the trick. I do find it hard to believe the team will want more than one former Vol grinding into the paint for midrange twos — Tobias Harris has that covered. I think the idea here is he’s a 3-and-D player and that’s how they’ll want to deploy him. But the pull-ups demonstrate, like the free throws, that he has touch.

So has he put on film enough evidence to suggest that in time he can be a 3-and-D player?

Conclusion

And to that end, I say yes. I don’t expect Springer to get a lot of minutes this season. I assume that at least a component of the reasoning the team selected him was market value and age, how a very young potential 3-and-D player might appeal to any team, especially a rebuilding team (like Portland perhaps)....

Coach Doc Rivers isn’t exactly known for playing rookies big minutes, and while he did make an exception for Tyrese Maxey in 2020, Springer is even younger than Maxey was. (Maybe they’d be wise to play him in the early going to showcase some of his skills and see what they have — after all Rivers does love his all-bench units). Maxey filled a void the team had at dribble creation last season. It would probably take a Ben Simmons trade (with Springer staying put) to create enough of a defensive void where we’d see him take on significant minutes.

But as currently constructed, the Sixers could theoretically generate tons of wide-open looks for Springer if he were on the floor with the rotation players.

About half (49.5 percent) of the triples the Sixers took last (regular) season were classified by NBA.com as “wide open” 6’ or more from closest defender when we only look at players who shot 100 or more.

If we exclude the knockdown snipers like Seth Curry, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz and Isaiah Joe (and just look at Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey) the percentage jumps all the way up to 58.3 percent. The Sixers will provide Springer with much more room than he’s used to and defenses will likely be happy to test his range as well.

The good news is that I believe Springer has the form and the touch to shoot at a reasonable (let’s say 34.3 percent from deep on three tries per 36 minutes) clip early in his career. That rate would come in at just below NBA average, but it’s likely achievable for Springer, and him just being near league average with his physical tools, defense and passing would be a very big find for Philly at pick 28. I’d sign up for him shooting 36 percent on 4 attempts per 36 in a heartbeat.

What if we want more though? If we were recommending changes, if you wanted him to shoot near 40 percent, I’d probably start with lowering his release a little bit. His shot does look a little rigid and mechanical at times because he loves to lean forward, bend his knees and spring up into a release that hangs over his forehead for a moment.

Kawhi Leonard made similar adjustments once upon a time. Notice the release on the right is lower and smoother:

Joel Embiid’s trainer Drew Hanlen recently posted a short video discussing shot fluidity, an area I think Springer could improve upon. At times he falls into some of the traps Hanlen mentions below:

If he wants to one day shoot above average, and potentially even get into that ~38 percent on nearly six threes per 36 minutes like Robert Covington has achieved (while providing elite defense) he will certainly want to weed out a few of the variance traps discussed and find a tighter and more consistent release.

Lowering his release might help him shoot more quickly. Straightening his shooting wrist upon release without a drift. Maintaining discipline on his guide hand so that it never changes. Deciding whether he’s a rim watcher or a ball watcher and eliminating head movement if he chooses to watch the ball.

It’s certainly in his range of outcomes to shoot over 36 percent on decent volume. And I agree with Morey’s analysis that he has the touch and the tools to improve as a shooter.

I think he already has the touch to be able to drill this type of short pull up if run off of his spot too:

He won’t have to be the world’s deadliest flame thrower in order to smash his draft value. And he has the shooting touch to become a solid shooter if not more with a little work.

Feel free to see how I did on some older shooting posts:

* Writing hip dip made me start to sing “hip dip, Hipadelphia”

** The clips from Summer League at the end of the video below come courtesy of Chris Deibler, known to you as @mrcrockpot on Twitter. Deibler runs the YouTube channel for The Painted Lines. His team has done a great job covering the Blue Coats and Summer League for us Sixer junkies.