It’s time to have a conversation about Jaden Springer

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Jaden Springer
Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) works against Philadelphia 76ers guard Jaden Springer (11) during the first half of an In-Season Tournament NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

The Philadelphia 76ers‘ frustrating losses to the New York Knicks and the Utah Jazz this past weekend were eye-opening for many reasons. While bad games happen even to the best of teams sometimes, the 36-point loss revealed some key issues among a team aiming to be a contender in the playoffs. One of those concerns is that of former first-round pick Jaden Springer.

It’s been widely expected that this season would be a critical juncture for Springer. In his first legitimate season as an NBA player, Springer has already appeared in more games this season (21) than he had all of last year (16). And with new head coach Nick Nurse’s defense-first mindset, the 21-year-old seems like a natural fit – and potentially, a critical trade piece. And for the most part, he hasn’t been half bad.

One highlight is his impressive defense against Atlanta Hawks superstar Trae Young in the Sixers’ most recent game Wednesday night. Springer was able to, for the most part, lock down Young, making every little action significantly more difficult, particularly in the first half.

However, as has always been the concern, it’s Springer’s ability to contribute offensively that will make or break his career. In spot moments when he receives trust from Nurse, the early returns have been mildly encouraging.

A little trust in Springer has gone a long way

In the 10 games this season he’s played 10 or more minutes, Springer has averaged 5.5 pts, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.6 stocks (steals+blocks) while shooting 37.5 percent from the field. Not great, but far from useless.

In fact, one of his best performances of the season came in November against the top-seeded Boston Celtics, where in 20 minutes of action, he put up nine points, two rebounds, two steals (including this incredible rip-and-reverse off Jayson Tatum), and shot 80 percent from the field and made his sole 3-point attempt. While the Sixers lost that contest, Springer was a +20 for the night, and it gave fans solid hope for his contributions going forward.

Springer
Boston Celtics’ Payton Pritchard, left, drives against Philadelphia 76ers’ Jaden Springer during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

But in the last month, that all seems to have largely dwindled. While Springer averaged 12.8 minutes per game across nine games in November, he played just 5.6 minutes per game in 8 matchups in December. And his lack of action seems to haunt his performance now. In January’s two contests, Springer has averaged a dismal 3.5 points per game in a full 18 minutes of play. While he’s had a steal and a block in each of those, Springer’s offensive woes seem to overshadow his defensive prowess. 

Nowhere was that more clear than in the third quarter of last night’s game against New York. After Tobias Harris suffered an ankle injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the night, Nick Nurse opted for a strong defensive lineup that included Springer to contain the sharpshooting Knicks.

Springer
New York Knicks’ Jalen Brunson, left, goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Jaden Springer during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

And to that end, it worked – the Knicks went a full five minutes without notching a single point. But rather than seizing the opportunity to make up scoring ground, the Sixers came to a screeching offensive halt. During that stretch, Springer put up zero points, rebounds, assists, or even blocks and had one steal. But more than that – he simply looked lost.

When he wasn’t tucked away in the corner, his floor spacing was deeply off. He lagged far from the basket when he could have used his size and strength to create an open lane for a basket. He almost seemed surprised when the ball came his way, either getting rid of it quickly despite being wide open or taking a way-off jump shot. And while Springer by no means bears sole responsibility for the loss, what could have been a winnable game turned into yet another poor performance by the bench.

So, what’s a coach to do? Would more playing time for Springer, especially against bad teams, be helpful in smoothing his full transition from the G-League to the NBA? Is there a team – or a coach – that might be a better fit for him? Or does he simply need to put in overtime in the gym, nailing his jump shot to become playable?

The answer, at least for now, is likely some combination of all three. With how young and strong defensively he is, it wouldn’t be a surprise for teams to express some interest in him as the deadline approaches. But in the meantime, it may be helpful for the team to throw some more resources behind the former G-League Finals MVP.

Whether that’s getting him in with a shooting coach or even just playing him with the starters to ease his offensive load, the Sixers have an opportunity to make or break the young lad at a critical time in his career.