Jaden Springer has been legally able to purchase alcoholic beverages in the United States for just 29 days.
Youth and potential are not interchangeable terms, but they are strongly correlated for most basketball players. Springer might not have done much of anything for the Philadelphia 76ers during his first two seasons in the NBA, but the 6-foot-4, 202-pound guard from Tennessee still has plenty of time to reach the lofty heights many projected for him during the 2021 pre-draft process.
Just looking at the basic box score stats from the preseason gives an inkling toward his improvement. Averaging 10.3 points on 81 TS% (True Shooting Percentage) in just 20 minutes per game is excellent for a guy who’s so far only scored 44 points in 18 regular season games played to date. Young players who weren’t drafted all that high have to make an impact in the box score one way or another to start earning rotation minutes.
But then you watch Springer’s film, and the improvement is even more visible:
Watch Jaden Springer throughout this whole possession— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) October 21, 2023
Hawks eventually score, but this is an All-Defense level sequence from a 21 year-old guard. I think he's in store for a breakout season in 2023-24. pic.twitter.com/sYCJgItKZh
Defense is the selling point for the third-year Sixers guard.
Going back to his days at Tennessee, Springer has always been built like a tank, carrying 200 pounds easily without sacrificing speed or movement skills. Add that to a wingspan that nears 6-foot-8 and a relentless motor at the point of attack, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a defender.
He spent all Friday night hounding Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, and it’s his screen navigation that really stands out. Springer utilizes swim moves akin to NFL EDGE rushers to maintain contact with his man, and once he’s squared up to his opponent, he’s able to pester them into difficult shots over good contests.
Also notice how the third-year guard gets all the little things right on these defensive sequences too. He keeps arms up and active as much as humanly possible, always ready to use them to contest jumpers or maneuver around screens.
Jaden Springer was a monster on defense against the Hawks last night— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) October 21, 2023
Here's a full minute of him completely blowing up Atlanta's offense on multiple occasions because he's impossible to screen pic.twitter.com/8FvlNtuIGh
A good way to think about Springer is similar to how the Clippers use Terance Mann (who’s obviously become a prominent player in Sixers’ discourse thanks to “waves arms wildly”). At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Mann is only a tad bit larger than Springer. And yet, he’s nominally the four/power forward in the Clippers’ starting lineup, and during the preseason has guarded everyone from Collin Sexton to Lauri Markkanen.
What’s great about players like Springer and Mann is that they possess the strength and size to defend up a position against bigger players, while not sacrificing any of the quick twitch mobility required to defend speedier guards. Springer can defend positions 1-4 on the court and turn the lights off for any dangerous perimeter creator the Sixers might be facing that night.
Springer also seems empowered by the chaos-heavy system that Nick Nurse employs on the defensive end of the floor. Going back to the first clip posted in this article, you can see Springer has the freedom to peel off his man and closeout to an open opponent nearby, as he trusts that his teammates will rotate behind him in the scramble drill. He’s flashed some of this defensive potential before (notably in 2022-23’s final game of the regular season against these same Atlanta Hawks), but the off-ball defense has always been hit or miss for him. Nurse allowing Springer to play with his pedal to the floor on that end looks beneficial here in preseason.
Really the only negative one could take from Springer’s defense on Friday night was that his over aggression can get punished. The Hawks should have had a layup here off the backdoor cut if DeAndre’ Hunter didn’t drop this pass.
Likewise, Springer got called for a foul on this play, as Murray easily sensed the young guard resting his hands on his shooting arm, and ripped up to draw a foul.
Even still, the positives show through for Springer on this play.
You can see the physical screen navigation, how the 21 year-old renders ball screen actions completely irrelevant with his ability to turn at insane angles over screens. Ask any basketball coach in the world, and I guarantee you they’d rather have a defender who is over aggressive at times than a timid one who goes through the motions and just tries to avoid mistakes.
Springer is just a wildly impressive screen navigator on defense— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) October 21, 2023
Should not be possible to be playing "Over" coverage on PnR and completely just run parallel to your man after getting past the screener pic.twitter.com/qu9oPpZLm3
Of course, most Sixers fans know that Springer can hang on the defensive end of the floor at the NBA level. It’s his offense that’s held him back more often.
He’s never been the world’s most accurate shooter, his ball handling is pretty static and predictable, and going back to his days as a draft prospect at Tennessee he’s famously an exclusive two-foot leaper.
But one thing that has started to look better in the preseason and throughout is that jump shot of his. Springer has shot 7-for-8 (87.5%) from three during four preseason games, which obviously will not continue over a larger sample size. Regardless, it’s still a promising development for a player who had only attempted five threes through 18 regular season NBA games in his career to this point.
Springer cashed home two triples against the Hawks on Friday, both from the left side of the floor. The first of the two threes is the more impressive ones, as someone with as much of a set shot as Springer usually struggles to hit threes off the move like that.
The shot form is undeniably awkward. Springer has an elongated shooting motion that starts at his mid-section and slowly rises up to above his head at the release point, and he keeps his stance wide enough that it looks like Jalen Hurts taking snaps in shotgun.
It hurts the total volume of threes Springer could take. It’s difficult to attempt a large number of threes when your shooting motion is slow. NBA defenders are insanely good at what they do, and the moment you don’t fire off an open three, they close the space down on you.
But the Sixers aren’t asking Springer to become a high volume three-point shooter. They don’t want him to be Tyrese Maxey, encouraged to side step and pull-up into triples whenever possible to juice the offense. They just want Springer to stay out of the P.J. Tucker zone where he gets completely ignored whenever he’s stationed on the perimeter.
If Springer takes and makes a league average number of spot-up threes while playing off the pick-and-roll game of Maxey and Joel Embiid, he won’t hinder the Sixers’ halfcourt offense, which is about all that’s needed from him on that end.
It’s hard to be certain how Nurse’s rotation will shake out in Philadelphia. If James Harden doesn’t end up playing in game one of the regular season on Thursday (and truly who knows on that one), the starters will probably be as follows:
Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, Joel Embiid
Kelly Oubre, Jr. has shot well enough that he should get some run. Have to imagine the Sixers brought in Pat Beverley to play him. Same goes for the suddenly rejuvenated Danny Green, and the backup center spot belongs to Paul Reed.
Without Harden, that’s a nine-man rotation right there. Mo Bamba and Filip Petrusev are more “break in case of Embiid sitting out tonight” bigs, and Springer just looks much better than Furkan Korkmaz right now. Really all it comes down to for the 10th/11th spot is Springer vs. Danuel House, Jr.
While playing House is enticing with the Sixers’ perennial lack of wings, it should be Springer who gets the nod. Oubre and Green already provide a tad more wing depth than usual, and Springer plays big enough that he can provide the facsimile of a wing on defense at times. He’s only 21 years old and he’s starting to flash the potential that made Sixers fans and basketball nerds everywhere so excited when he fell all the way to the No. 29 overall pick during the 2021 NBA Draft.
Jaden Springer’s time is now.