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2021 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Jaden Springer

Jaden Springer is one of the harder prospects to pinpoint in terms of where he might go in the 2021 NBA Draft.

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

Over the next month, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2021 NBA Draft. This year we will be breaking it up in to three sections - five to likely trade up for, five potentially available right around pick #17 where Memphis is slotted to pick, and five that surely will be there or perhaps the Grizzlies could even trade back and still select.

JADEN SPRINGER, GUARD, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

  • 6’4”, 202 Pounds, (6’8” Wingspan), 18 years old, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • One Season at Tennessee- 25.9 minutes per game (25 games), 12.5 points per game, 47.5% field goal percentage, 43.5% on threes, 81.0% free throw percentage, 3.5 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game
  • STATS OF STRENGTH: Offense Rebounds, 3PFG% (43.5%), Defensive Rating (94.2)
  • STATS TO IMPROVE: Fouls (2.8 per 36 Min), Assist to Turnover Ratio, Offensive Rating (108.8)
  • ACCOLADES: 2021 All SEC Freshman Team
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENTS: 13th Overall (Tankathon), 22nd Overall (The Ringer), 27th Overall (ESPN), 22nd Overall (CBS Sports), 18th Overall (Bleacher Report)

As the NBA continues to evolve, individual players that offer significant value on both ends of the court as well as the ability to facilitate and make plays for themselves and others are more valuable than ever. Ideally, teams would love to have this player profile in the form of big wings with length than can guard multiple positions. However, a combo guard who can provide this type of skill set is extremely valuable as well.

In the case of Jaden Springer, the potential is certainly there for him to offer significant long term value with this type of skillset. For a player who is among the youngest in the 2021 NBA class, Springer’s effort, feel for the game, and ability to create advantages with his physical tools is quite impressive. Though his numbers during his freshman year at Tennessee may not stand out in any one area, the fact he added value across the board on both ends of the court certainly does. This is especially true for a team like the Memphis Grizzlies that highly covets that aspect of a player’s game.

Similar to his University of Tennessee teammate Keon Johnson, Springer’s long-term value seems to be concentrated more on his defense than offense. However, while Johnson’s athleticism makes him a likely lottery lock in the draft, Springer projects more as a steady source of value in many facets of the game that is enhanced by his potential to run a team’s offense at times. Though many outlets have him in the late teens and 20’s on big boards, Springer has already received workouts from several lottery teams. Though he may not be a wing, in a league that is becoming less defined by specific positions, Springer’s stock is certainly rising as a player that consistently makes valuable plays anywhere on the court

What He Does Well

A simple way to describe the impact that Jaden Springer makes on the court is that he effectively plays a physical brand of basketball with consistent effort. At 6’4” and 202 pounds, Springer is noticeably bigger than most guards his age. And with the fact that he will not be 19 until September, there is certainly a chance he gets bigger in time.

Similar to how Johnson creates defensive advantages through “functional athleticism”, Springer creates advantages through “fictional physicality.” He does an outstanding job of putting immediate pressure on the ball-handler and disrupting drives or the ability for his opponent to initiate offensive schemes. His size allows for him to make it very tough on his opponent to get around him, while his ability to shift his feet and slide gives him surprising lateral quickness. Furthermore, his instincts and intelligence allow for him to effectively use his hands to create steals and loose balls. In the highlight package above against a talented Auburn roster, Springer showed how effective he can be in many different ways on defense.

Springer’s ability to use size to his advantage also allows for him to play bigger than he actually is. He has the potential to guard both guard spots and manage at times to hold his own against bigger wings, especially in post-up situations. Beyond one-on-one defense, Springer’s awareness allows for him to be a menace when it comes to deflections and steals on passes. He averaged 1.9 steals per 40 minutes, which is impressive for how much younger he was than his competition. It also allows for him to create an impact as a help defender. While he is not a threat to block many shots, he has more agility and quickness than one might think. He uses that to his advantage to be disruptive and create turnovers despite his lack of length.

Offensively, while Springer may not stand out like he does on defense in any one area, he certainly has shown flashes of good production and offers plenty of potential to contribute in multiple ways. Similar to the central reason as to why he can be so effective on defense, Springer knows how to use his size to his advantage on offense. Perhaps his biggest area of strength on offense is the ability to use his size on drives. Though he will not be the fastest player on the court, a quick first step allows him to get position on his defender to find the right angle to get to the basket. Once he has that position, he can use his body to create the path he needs to for a high percentage attempt.

The end result is a player who can hurt a defense in multiple ways on drives and in the lane. He shot over 65% on his shots at the rim, and also averaged four free throw attempts per game. He can make tough shots going against bigger bodies, and has no issue being fouled. Furthermore, Springer’s confidence in his physicality allows for him to also make a difference as a playmaker in the lane. He consistently plays with his head up, but unlike others, he also is aware as to where his teammates are. He can effectively drive and kick to an open shooter. A major area of impact for Springer is once he has gained the attention of the defense while driving, he can make multiple versions of passes to a teammate close to the rim. Whether it’s a lob or a bounce pass, Springer often makes the right read to get create a high percentage look of other players.

For many of the same reasons he is effective on drives, Springer is also highly effective as a creator and finisher in transition. He also can create havoc as a cutter and ball mover when in motion, proving that he can add value in multiple offensive schemes. Beyond cutting, Springer showed good promise as a catch and shoot option from three, making 43.5% of his 46 attempts from three. Though he did not show much volume as a shot creator, under 25% of his attempts on non-rim two point shots were assisted. Though his accuracy was not ideal, Springer showed flashes of effective ball-handling to create enough space to find his shot. His 81% accuracy from the free throw line also suggests Springer could turn into a reliable shooter in time.

Beyond scoring, Springer can be a positive source of rebounding on both ends of the court. He also proved to be relevant as a playmaker and ball-handler. Though he may never be the main point guard on an NBA team, Springer certainly can make an impact as a secondary playmaker. He certainly improved his impact as a playmaker as his freshman season progressed. In his first 15 games, Springer produced two or more assists eight times. In his final ten games, he did it nine times. Springer’s ability as a relevant facilitator to backup Ja Morant and support him when they are on the court together would fill a need for Memphis.

Where He Can Improve

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oregon State at Tennessee IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned above, the main thing that allows for Springer to be valuable on offense and defense is knowing how to use his size as a guard. However, Springer has neither an ideal wingspan nor is he exceptionally quick for a combo guard. His overall athleticism is certainly underrated for his size, but better athletes could cause Springer issues. He is prone to being beat on cuts as an off-ball defender against quicker players, and he may struggle against movement shooters who relocate a lot in offensive schemes. Furthermore, his ability to recover to produce blocks is limited as well. Though his awareness and anticipation helps minimize his physical limitations, he mainly is effective against smaller guards on defense.

On offense, Springer does not demonstrate elite quickness or athleticism. He is not going to blow past his man, nor will he move quick in small spaces to consistently create separation. This results in may of his shots being contested, especially at the rim. Though knowing how to use his size allows for Springer to still get good looks on tough shots, an inability to separate will be a harder obstacle to overcome in the NBA. Furthermore, Springer has not yet turned into an effective enough ball handler to make shots off the dribble.

Though Springer certainly has upside as a playmaker, it is unlikely he becomes a consistent primary offensive initiator in the NBA. He must make significant strides with his ball handling and decision making to be consistently trusted as a secondary playmaker. In 25 games, Springer had 73 assists compared to 60 turnovers. Though his youth certainly played a part in his inconsistency, he merely showed flashes of intriguing potential instead of long stretches.

In terms of his shot, Springer struggled a bit with his accuracy when creating his own shot. He made only 34% of his non-rim twos. Springer’s ability to create his own shot has not yet expanded to the three-point line, as 85% of his threes were catch-and-shoot. Springer has decent form and shot selection, but his profile does not indicate that he will become a highly impactful scorer.

In fact, in terms of his offense, though he is still certainly young with significant room to improve, Springer likely does not have the offensive upside of other guards in this class. He projects more as a complimentary piece as a secondary playmaker and shooter than a primary option. Though he will be a source of consistent value when he is on the court, a team like Memphis may prefer players who are better an initiating their own offense, especially from distance.

The Fit with the Grizzlies

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oregon State at Tennessee Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Though Springer does not have the track record that players the Grizzlies have targeted over the past few years in the draft, the relevant impact he makes in so many areas of the game certainly fits Memphis’s preferences. The rate at which Springer makes positive plays, especially defensively, is something the Grizzlies highly covet. And though the Grizzlies already have similar players on their roster, one area where Springer stands out as a fit is his ability to handle the basketball.

Last season, the Grizzlies utilized Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow as their backup point guard. Obviously, neither player added much positive value. With Springer, though he may not be a floor general to the level of Jones or a wing with the size of Winslow, he can initiate the offense for stretches while also adding value on both ends of the court. The Grizzlies need a player who can be a secondary facilitator, strong defender, and reliable shooter when on the court with Morant, while being a serviceable point guard when Morant is sitting. Springer has more upside to be that option that any player currently on Memphis’s roster.

Though Springer may not be as clear of a long-term fit as a starter as bigger wings/guards would be for Memphis, Springer offers plenty of upside as a consistent source of positive plays that should make the Grizzlies confident in drafting him and making it work. Memphis does already have similar players in De’Anthony Melton and Grayson Allen. However, Springer likely has the most upside of those three players, and Allen is on an expiring contract. If the draft board falls a certain way and the Grizzlies take Springer, Melton also could be come an attractive trade asset in a package to bring in an established NBA talent to help Memphis take the next step as a franchise.

The Verdict

Though Jaden Springer may not project as a star like other prospects in this draft, despite his age, he carries more certainty that he will become a significant contributor for a winning franchise than many of his peers. He also is healthier now than he was for much of his freshman season, and will likely be utilized better in the NBA than he was in college. Along with his profile as a player who consistently gives effort, makes plays, and adds consistent value on both ends being highly valued by the Grizzlies, Jaden Springer would be an excellent pick if the draft board were to fall certain ways and the Grizzlies remain at 17.

However, if bigger wings or frontcourt players with similar upsides are available or a player with significant upside as a self-creator who can also add value elsewhere is an option, Springer should be considered a fallback option. As a result, there is certainly logic to suggest that based off how they have drafted in the past, and with his age and upside, Springer could certainly be a target for the Grizzlies on draft night. However, though he certainly would be a valuable addition to the Grizzlies, there will likely be options with similar upside that have more needed skill sets for Memphis to prefer over Springer when their time to pick arrives.

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