Philadelphia 76ers: Jaden Springer’s Summer League D is NBA ready

Barring a legit shocking turn of events, a massive trade, or a tragic, career-ending injury, Jaden Springer is going to be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers this fall.

Now granted, he may not play a ton for the Sixers and may again double, triple, or even quadruple his NBA minutes down in Delaware, but one of Philly’s 15 roster spots – 17 if you count two-way contracts- will bring filled by Springer this fall and will likely remain filled by Springer all season long.

I mean hey, when, according to Keith Pompey, the Memphis Grizzlies were prepared to draft Springer 17th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft before trading up to select Ziaire Williams 10th overall, the prospects of Springer as a prospect are a very real thing.

And yet, what if Springer can become more than just a guy sitting on the bench in street clothes? What if he can play a little bit here or there when someone gets hurt, gets deployed situationally as a defense-matchup specialist, or better yet, actually cracks Doc Rivers’ regular season rotation? Well, if he shows up to training camp like he showed up against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the final game of the Utah Summer League, the real winners will be the Philadelphia 76ers, as the second year pro out of Tennessee was the second-best player in a game that also featured Josh Giddy.

The Philadelphia 76ers need to find a role for Jaden Springer.

What can Jaden Springer do for the Philadelphia 76ers right now? Not in three years, not when he hits his NBA prime; now, in 2022-23, the second season of his professional career.

In two words: Play defense.

I know, I know, talk about an original take, but it’s true; Springer, at just 20-years-old, is already an NBA-caliber backcourt defender who has the speed needed to keep up with the quicker point guards the association has to offer and the size needed to hold down would be bullies at the shooting guard spot. While there are certainly small forwards who Springer can match with – he looked very good on a 6-foot-8 wing in Josh Giddey in the Summer League thanks to his 6-foot-7.5 wingspan – using Springer as an Avery Bradley-esque backcourt defender is likely his ideal role early on.

Unfortunately, there’s one aspect of Bradley’s game that isn’t quite there for Springer at this point in his career: A reliable 3-ball.

While Springer was an efficient 3-point shooter in college at Tennessee, hitting 41.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, he only took 46 shots over his 25-game career and was considered more of a developmental offensive player than a plug-‘n-play offensive sniper.

Fast forward to the 2021-22 NBA season, and Springer’s offensive production, both in the G-League and the NBA, was predictably underwhelming. Over his 19 games with the Blue Coats, Springer only took 58 3s but made just 14 of them, which is a slightly higher attempts per game than his average as a Volunteer, but is a far less efficient completion percentage of just 24.1.

And as for in the NBA? Well, Springer didn’t take or make a single 3 with the Sixers last fall, which shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise, considering he only attempted one shot, period, over six minutes of action.

Needless to say, if Doc Rivers puts Springer into a game expecting him to space the floor for someone like Joel Embiid, it probably isn’t going to go well; Springer’s man will simply slack off into the painted area, and Embiid’s willingness to pass the ball out to 11 will rapidly erode if he won’t take/make open looks.

But what about next to James Harden? Could a three-guard lineup featuring De’Anthony Melton, Springer, and Harden look good, especially with an athletic finisher like Paul Reed at the five and a shooting four like Danuel House? That lineup would be able to hide Harden on the defensive end of the court with three perimeter switching specialists and would provide the eagle-eyed playmaker with scores of opportunities to dish out dimes, scheme open catch-and-shoot 3s, and even toss-up lobs for athletic finishers like Springer and Reed.

If the Sixers can run that lineup as a “base package” for Springer for just, say, six minutes per game, a more expansive set of opportunities could spider out for the second-year pro.

Will Jaden Springer ever become a 3-and-D wing? Only time will tell; with only two seasons left on De’Anthony Melton’s contract, Springer could be a natural heir as an effective off-ball performer next to a player like Tyrese Maxey for years to come. But for that to happen, the Philadelphia 76ers need to start Springer off on the right foot and get him going early on in his second professional season. Fortunately, with just six minutes of NBA playing time on his resume, he could double or even triple his track record by the end of Game 1, so the sky really is the limit on his game moving forward, as there’s nowhere to go but up.