Tennessee Volunteers guard Jaden Springer has an established case as one of the better young prospects in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft.
Measuring in at 6-foot-4 in shoes at the combine, Springer is actually the shortest among the four boys in his family. His two older brothers, Gary Jr. for Iona and Jordan for Army, both played college basketball as well. That helped give him some of the grittiness that he brings to the floor.
“I’m one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around,” said Springer, during a recent conversation with HoopsHype as he prepared for the upcoming 2021 NBA draft.
“I probably got my competitiveness from my brothers. We’re all really competitive. Every time we get together, it’s who can do this? Who can do that? We’re always going at it. Me and my oldest brother, the last time we played, my dad had to separate us. We got a little too competitive. It was tied up and we were wrestling. That’s the last time we played.”
Springer was a standout high school basketball player in North Carolina before transferring to play at the prestigious IMG Academy for his final two years of eligibility. As a junior, he averaged 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
Alongside teammates including Dallas Mavericks wing Josh Green and fellow draft prospect Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, he raised his basketball profile by winning the Geico High School National Championship in 2019.
“That was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. That was the most joy I’ve ever felt after a game. It was just a crazy experience. A lot of people didn’t have us winning. So when we won, we proved everybody wrong.”
As a senior, he was named McDonald’s All-American and was considered a consensus five-star recruit before committing to play for Tennessee.
Once there, Springer immediately became one of the youngest players in college basketball, playing the entire season at just 18 years old. He also had to adjust to life as a D-I athlete while living amidst a pandemic, which made the transition to the NCAA quite a bit more difficult.
His menacing defense became his calling card and he helped the Vols finish with a top-five defense in college basketball, per KenPom. Among all players who declared for the draft, per Bart Torvik, Springer joined projected lottery picks Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes as the only freshmen to finish with a block percentage above 2.0 percent and a steal percentage above 2.5 percent.
“It’s always been a part of me. I just remember being a little kid outside playing against kids in the neighborhood. We were always competitive and I never wanted to let anyone else score.”
A very Jaden Springer-esque sequence from Jaden Springer pic.twitter.com/afqAoYpRnt
— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) May 26, 2021
Even though Springer was in the second unit for each of the first nine games of the season, he thrived in that role, recording 21 points while shooting 8-for-10 from the field with 6 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench on Dec. 18.
By the end of January, he moved fully into the starting lineup, where he immediately stepped up for the Volunteers. He had a three-game stretch in February where he scored at least 20 points in each appearance, notching 30 points while shooting 3-for-4 from beyond the arc when facing off against Georgia on February 10.
That was a good example of what Springer can do when he’s firing on all cylinders. But while he was one of just two high-major freshmen to shoot at least 43.0 percent on his three-pointers last season (minimum: 40 attempts), he felt that could have happened more often.
“I shot a good percentage but I didn’t get off a lot of clips,” said Springer. “I feel like I could have got off a lot more clips and I could have shown that I could really shoot.”
Similarly, he was also dealing with an ankle injury all season long that limited some of what he was able to do on the floor. He recorded only five dunk attempts, which doesn’t sound right for anyone who has followed his game, but his ability to get to the basket showed in flashes.
springer's advantage creation is one of the most underrated traits in the class, it's legit pic.twitter.com/duNGdBj3Dl
— Ben Pfeifer (@Ben_Pfeifer_) June 4, 2021
Last week, on Bleacher Report, Jonathan Wasserman reported that he had heard “rave reviews about Springer’s workouts and explosiveness” during recent conversations with scouts around the league.
“I’m way more athletic than I showed. There have been a few teams that came away saying they didn’t know I could do that. But that has always been a part of me. Now, I can show my athleticism on full display,” explained Springer. “Now I can move off the bounce and come off the dribble to make quick moves to get to the basket. It just helps my all-around game.”
He tested well at the combine, measuring with the fifth-best standing vertical (34.5 inches) among all participants. If you plug in his athletic testing to NBAthlete.com, the players with the closest simulator score were two stellar defensive stoppers in Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart and Memphis Grizzlies’ De’Anthony Melton.
2.9 APG does not do Jaden Springer's passing or vision justice. Feels like his passing is going to explode in the NBA with a modern offense and NBA teammates around him
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) July 16, 2021
Springer also has a good feel for the game, evidenced by the fact that his assist percentage (24.1%) ranked second-best among freshmen who declared for the draft.
When he meets with NBA teams, it’s easy to convince them that he is worthy of consideration when they are on the clock in the first round of the 2021 NBA draft.
“I tell them I can help the team win. I’m a competitor. I can get it done on both sides. I can score on offense. I can facilitate. I can lock up on defense,” added Springer. “For me to be doing what I’m doing at such a young age, I feel like I can only get better and I can only grow as time goes on.”