In the latest edition of 'P.I. Pulse,' Pro Insight's Aneesh Namburi conducts a deep dive analysis on Tennessee's projected lottery pick, Jaden Springer:
Jaden Springer came to Knoxville as part of Rick Barnes’ decorated 2020 recruiting class after a high profile prep career, most notably at IMG Academy where he was part of their national championship team his junior year. He took over the starting spot early in SEC play and turned in multiple high scoring efforts throughout the rest of the year. A power guard who is also one of the youngest players in the draft, Springer is a highly functional athlete for his age who has potential in a multitude of modern skills. Below is an in-depth scouting report that covers every aspect of his game and how it translates to the NBA, where his strengths lie in addition to potential areas of improvement.
Date of Birth 9/25/12002
Weight 205 lbs.
Wingspan 6' 7.5"
Fractured bone in his foot in the spring/summer of 2019; sprained ankle that caused him to miss chunk of senior year; sprained ankle in January 2021
High: Sub All-Star guard/wing hybrid. Above-average shooter both on and off the ball. Advantage downhill driver/cutter, elite in transition, especially in grab-and-go situations. Willing enough as a shooter where teams can’t take away drives, one of the better downhill attackers in the PnR; high-level scorer. Uses scoring gravity to open up consistent passing windows. Elite defender at the PoA, tough for offense to get around him due to physical tools (strength, length, lateral speed) and stays attached on ball screens. Positive team defender, improves positioning and can consistently create plays off the ball. Grows to solid wing size and can guard 1-through-5.
Median: Low-usage scorer. Solid shooter on lower volume with versatility, puts pressure on D. Advantage downhill driver/cutter in the half-court, effective in transition. Can score at the rim or off PU in PnR, inconsistent passing reads limits him from high usage. Positive defender at the PoA, tough for offense to get around him due to physical tools (strength, length, lateral speed) and stays attached on ball screens. Solid team defender, tendency to ball watch occasionally but overall a plus. Switches 1-through-4.
Low: Bottom rotation 3&D guard. Passable spot-up shooter but reluctant to shoot. Advantage downhill driver/cutter in the half-court, effective in transition off the ball. Teams force him to shoot in the PnR, making lanes tougher and reducing pass optimization. Positive defender at the PoA, tough for offense to get around him due to physical tools (strength, length, lateral speed) and stays attached on ball screens. Neutral team defender, out of position semi-occasionally but creates events + can switch positions 1-through-4.
Especially given his age, Springer is a plus-athlete in a power guard’s body. To start, he is one of the more physically developed prospects in terms of strength at his age. With a powerful lower half that generates power and a broad/thick chest and shoulders, Springer can bully past players on offense and uses his frame to prevent most matchups from getting through him. While he doesn’t possess great burst, his positive lateral foot speed, ability to slide, hip flexibility, and length covers this area of this game and should allow him to pose additional problems as a defender covering the perimeter. Springer has thrown many evaluators/scouts off with his reliance on getting off the ground with two feet and the issues that could present in terms of his ability to get off the ground quick, but 1) his combination of strength and standalone vertical numbers seems to work well enough 2) it seems likely he can work on adding takeoff diversity when he needs to get in the air quicker. In terms of potential negatives, an idea that has been mentioned is that gaining hip flexibility on offense will limit Springer’s power generation on his go-to moves, his strength based drives. It’s not fair to make a conclusion due to a lack of body mechanics understanding, but it could be something to look into or monitor.
Might still have some room to grow: dad and two older brothers all at least 6-foot-9
Youngest American prospect in the draft
Plus-wingspan (+3ish) for position
Big guard size, could move up the lineup to a wing or a guard/wing hybrid as physical development rounds out
Jumps off two feet almost every time; solid vertical which works fine in tandem with strength but will need to incorporate more one-foot takeoffs for instances where he needs quicker pop
Passable burst/quickness; works well coupled w/ his strength, but likely doesn’t hold up on its own
Positive lower body mobility and flexibility; slides well laterally (fluid + quick feet); strength + shorter legs might limit hip flexibility a touch but overall will be fine
Excellent frame with elite balance; stacked for an 18-year-old with power trunk + lower half, broad chest/shoulders; uses strength as primary means for generating advantages
Springer already possesses highly translatable NBA skills offensively, and has shown the potential and ability to round out the rest of his offensive game to turn into a high-level guard creator. Every successful guard prospect in the modern NBA needs to have a standout skill in order to create advantages, and Springer’s combination of size and strength to get to the hoop does just that. There will need to be some development in terms of take off versatility, but he should project as a sub-elite finisher once/if that comes around. In order to transform into a true offensive threat (specifically out of the pick-and-roll), he will need to develop more comfort with his jumper both on and off the ball, as well as add consistency to his decision making in terms of aggressiveness and reactivity. Springer should also translate to the NBA as an off-ball transition scorer due to his aforementioned physical tools. His flashes as a cutter, possessing specific utility in hand-off scenarios that gets him downhill, should provide utility in the case that his shooting does not come around. Tennessee ran tons of post ups this season, and Springer was arguably the largest beneficiary of that system. While it is probably efficient to put him in these positions situationally, it is important to take away the potential reliance on the plays.
Half court: 64.9% of 2’s assisted, 35.1% of 3’s assisted
64/118 within restricted area this season
Heavy preference to finish off two feet; unorthodox but mostly effective when combined with strength, will be tough for defenses to move in the air (there are times where he needs to get off one foot and the pop isn’t wholly present, so will have to spend some time diversifying take-offs)
Combo of strength+solid (but not great on its own) burst/speed makes it tough for defenses to contain downhill
Able to navigate narrow gaps in the defense when attacking the hoop; excellent coordination on his spin move and uses his shoulder well to ram through some of those gaps
While adjustment finishes will never be his primary option, has showed flashes of touch and ability to finish using dexterity
0.740 PPP on 104 jumpshots in HC (37.0% eFG); currently has heavy preference to mid-range > 3
Mechanics look good; low volume of attempts at Tenn. along with mixed results but positive indicators in regards to touch and degree of difficulty in shots he did take
One motion shot; gets into shot quickly due to limited dip/load after catching the ball; occasionally can get mechanical when stationary but fluid off the dribble
Lack of bend will likely limit movement capabilities
Very dependent on using strength, doesn’t possess a consistent set of moves when that fails (to be fair, previously didn’t need it); navigates tight spaces extremely well
Positive sign of development: low amount of on-ball turnovers considering a lack of elite handle
More of a spin/hop step player; adding a crossover with his lateral mobility could be deadly
On-Ball (Pick-and-Roll, Isolation, Post-Up)
0.520 PPP on 25 PnR BH possessions, 27.8% eFG; has the downhill pressure and has shown flashes of pull-up shooting + playmaking but inconsistent, not fully comfortable shooting and playmaking has a tendency to be passive or slower with his reads
Currently D guards against iso by taking away drive and forcing him to shoot, but it is easy to inspire confidence in the ability to develop a pull-up (0.500 PPP on 22 possessions, 17.6% eFG)
Confident in his proficiency in the post; was pretty much his go-to at Tenn. (listed as 7 post-ups on Synergy but very clearly more than that)
Off-Ball (Catch-and-Shoot, Transition, Movement Shooting, Cutting)
1.000 PPP on 28 C&S possessions in HC (50.0% eFG)
1.000 PPP on 102 spot-up possessions (55.9% eFG)
Powerful finisher in transition with good open court speed, can outwardly see the confidence that no one can stop him in this setting; 1.256 PPP on 86 transition possessions (72.8% eFG)
Would be very interested using him in hand-off situations and other actions to get him downhill, putting D on his back/hip will be tough to stop; 0.808 PPP on 26 off-screen possessions (35.7% eFG); 0.400 PPP on 10 hand-off possessions (10.0% eFG)
1.429 PPP on 14 possessions as a cutter (56.3% eFG); cut a decent amount in the half court, but ended up around the FT line and getting into a turnaround J/post up
Flashed some high-level reads this past season, still has never really been a full-time lead, so tons of room to grow (ex. interior wrap around passes)
Risk averse and almost too methodical as a playmaker (Tenn. system or his processing speed?)
Likely will fall somewhere between tertiary and secondary playmaker
Partially a function of Tenn. offense, but takes a ton of turnaround mid-range jumpers out of the post after 4-5 dribbles
It’s not an exaggeration that Springer could become an All-NBA defender. Not only does he possess differentiating physical tools, but he has an innate understanding of how to prevent matchups from gaining advantages. Springer is a tank at the point of attack. Even at the highest level, he’ll more than likely be one of the strongest players at his position, and when combined with his length and lateral mobility, Springer has shown a propensity to contain a wide range of positions at the point of attack (he did the best job containing Cade in HS that I’ve seen from any defender). He uses his body extremely well to prevent players from getting downhill on him, and having that tool to lean on allows him to focus on preventing jumpers, often utilizing his plus-wingspan. Team defense is where cracks start to appear, but his instincts and overall positive impact for a Rick Barnes-led team mitigates some of the concerns in terms of positioning during his freshman year, which likely was an issue due to the lack of urgency to nail down his rotations because of his distinct physical advantage in high school. While it probably isn’t best to have him chase shooters, allowing him to develop as a nail defender or someone who digs down when the ball is stationary seems likely to yield positive results. Teams can even trust him to develop into a positive help side rim protector and rebounder when playing more as a wing, as Springer is one of the most trusted defenders in the class when it comes to switching. I am usually not one to make comparisons, but it’s not hard to see a lot of Jrue Holiday on this end of the floor.
On-Ball (Isolation, Pick-and-Roll, Post Defense)
Slides well laterally; uses chest to keep matchups in front of him and doesn’t give up angles thanks to lower body strength; has good enough length to contest shots well and create deflections when man exposes the ball
Has the strength to completely disregard screens; in most cases the sheer strength of his shoulders knocks the screener back and gives him a lane to prevent space
One of the better guard prospects in this draft class in terms of scaling up positions
Off-Ball and Team Defense
Developing off-ball/team defender; previously seemed to be pretty reliant on physical tools
Large-ish sample of mistakes off the ball; effort isn’t the issue, more due to still learning nuances of positionality and (secondarily) technique
Occasional issues dropping hips and sliding off closeout defense
Plays well breaking off man to help + create events rather than being static in a help position
Will struggle chasing movement shooters / high-level cutters off the ball due to lack of true bend
Uses power generation to spring to help positions more quickly than expected
6.0 block+steal rate showcases natural instincts; more from on-ball plays than seeing a play ahead of time (partially due to his defensive placement)
Other (Rim Protection, Rebounding, Switchability)
Not sure how much usage he would get as a help rim protector due to his PoA proficiency, but has the capability due to timing + strength; will be tough to dislodge him
Passable rebounding rate for position, number should jump higher when not in Tennessee
Holds up physically 1-through-4 due to outlier strength for age/position; length + lateral quickness should also help contain more horizontal guards/wings
The point of the lottery is to find upside bets. For the modern NBA, these bets take the shape of two-way advantage creators with strong physical tools that are versatile on both ends of the floor. Springer has the chance to be one of those players. He offers guard creator skills in essentially a 3 & D wing’s body, taking away the usual deficiencies that come on the defensive end. We’ve seen the value of a player like Jrue Holiday and Kyle Lowry in the playoffs. Not only does it allow their teams to potentially keep five positive defenders on the court in late-game situations, but it also presents the opportunity to play them alongside a “negative” defender, increasing the different lineup combinations that a team could roll out offensively. Springer is a strength-based player with rim pressure and a dogged on-ball defender. His development will be dependent on an NBA team’s (and his) ability to increase his confidence shooting 3’s and using that as a counter to his driving ability, in learning how to quickly and confidently dissect playmaking reads.
Now of course the big question: where does Springer’s skillset and potential place him in the draft? I’ve repeatedly mentioned his age, and there’s a reason why it’s so widely used as a source of value. The earlier you can bring players into a developmental system — especially one at the caliber of an NBA team — the more likely organizations can help mold them into a premier contributor. Given Springer’s age, combination of physical tools, natural instincts, and production as arguably the best perimeter player on an NCAA Tournament team, his skills and upside as a sub All-Star (or maybe even All-Star) creator are a worthwhile bet in the lottery.