Tennessee freshman Jaden Springer has been consistent in SEC play, but he’s improved his performance level recently and earned a spot in the starting lineup in the past five contests. Early in the season, he’s been lauded for suffocating on-ball defense and physicality, but on top of that, in the Volunteers’ last three games Springer is averaging 24.6 points per game, compared to 9.6 in the first 14. He has also connected on six shots from deep during that span, after only hitting nine before that. He has been displaying the power, versatility, and scoring that made him a consensus 5-star recruit coming out of high school.
In his final year at IMG Academy, Springer played quite a bit at point guard and was considered the driving force of their offense. However, playing point guard hasn’t been a large part of his role at Tennessee, as Santiago Vescovi has carried the majority of the minutes as the lead ball-handler. Between Springer, Vescovi, Keon Johnson, Josiah James, and Victor Bailey Jr., Tennessee has plenty of versatility at their guard positions. Subsequently, Springer rarely has to handle the role of the offensive engine outside of catch-and-drives or attacking closeouts. In recent games against Kentucky, Georgia, and LSU, he has seen some increase in opportunities to attack from the perimeter and has taken advantage.
Springer has shown the ability to hit catch-and-shoot threes, but through the early part of this season, that was about the only way he was producing from deep. He has clean mechanics and has displayed good pre-shot footwork, but his delivery can be a bit slow at times. Although only a small sample size, he has recently displayed that he can create his own shot off the dribble with strong footwork and balance. In the second clip below, Springer understands where his feet are and the value of the shot, resulting in a confident stepback three.
He has also been active in transition, getting out on the break quickly with burst and anticipation. His straight-line speed and athleticism help create advantages, and he’s instinctual as both a rim-runner and ball handler. Springer manages to play with a balance of aggressiveness and patience, something that stands out with his age. Whether he starts the break as the ball handler or receives the pass later, he’s always a threat to finish the play with his explosiveness and touch.
Springer’s explosion and quickness to get downhill have unlocked much of his ability to score points at a higher rate. He excels in employing a powerful jab step to get his defender off balance. He can activate quick-twitch movements in open space and plays low to the ground so, when he’s locked in, it’s very difficult for defenders to stay in front of him. When he’s not able to beat his man off of his initial move, he uses disciplined footwork and patience to get deep in the lane, giving himself room for a soft floater or mid-range jumper.
Overwhelming physical strength is not often found in young 18-year-old prospects. Springer has been categorized by some as a “bully guard” due to the physicality he plays with, but he uses it advantageously and is rarely out of control. He often utilizes his strength with creative dribble moves or body control for crafty finishes at the rim, making him a unique, yet reliable, finisher through contact. In the second clip below, he hits Brandon Boston Jr. with a tight in-and-out dribble before completely uprooting him with his upper body strength for the finish.
As I mentioned earlier, Springer has a background of playing point guard, and although it’s not his primary role for the Volunteers, he has shown flashes of being a capable facilitator. When he gets downhill, the gravity he creates in the lane often forces defenders to collapse. Springer feels and reacts to these and regularly finds the open shooter on the wing or in the corner. He also displays his basketball intelligence through manipulation of defenders with no-look or drop-off passes on the interior, leveraging the position of the defender to give the bigs open looks at the rim.
It’s no secret that Jaden Springer has the tools to be a strong defender, but he’s been on an absolute tear over the last week and a half on offense. He also won’t turn 19 years old until September, making him one of the youngest eligible players in this Draft class. He has been referred to as “unique,” “hybrid,” “positionless,” and a handful of other adjectives as a player; no matter how you view him, Springer is a competitor and possesses many of the physical tools and skills seen in high-level prospects. Keep your eye on him as we near The SEC Conference Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, and the 2021 NBA Draft.