Projected to go in the middle of the first round, scrappy 6’4” guard Jalen Springer out of Tennessee plays a scrappy and defensive-minded brand of basketball that the Knicks coaching staff and front office will love from day one. In his only year in college, Springer posted a very good 94.2 defensive rating and averaged 1.2 steals per game in just 25.9 minutes per game.
Springer, unlike some of the other good defenders in the draft, doesn’t boast an insane wingspan, but he is very strong and plays bigger than he actually is. He excels at using his body to play ball handlers up close and put pressure on them. In doing so, he was able to cause havoc and get in the way of drives. He has the hands, the awareness, and IQ to get into the passing lanes and impact a game on the defensive end as the primary defender or by getting deflections.
What makes all of this even more impressive is the fact that he did all of this as an 18 year old; he doesn’t turn 19 until September. There is a chance he is still growing and as he continues to develop physically and skill-wise, he could become an elite defender and even improve on the other end, where some scouts do have some concerns.
Springer was by no means an elite scorer as a freshman. That being said, he did manage to lead the Volunteers in scoring with 12.5 ppg. He was efficient in getting those points, with shooting splits of 47/44/81. There is hope that with more work and experience, he can develop into a reliable and consistent scorer.
One thing to keep an eye on will be how willing he is and how confident he is in shooting the three-point shot. He did shoot a good percentage last year but only took 1.8 threes per game. We all know how important the long ball is in today’s game, especially for guards. He does have a very balanced and consistent form, so the consensus is that it shouldn’t be too big of a problem going forward.
Aside from his outside shooting, Springer showcased an ability to get to the rim and use his strong frame to protect the ball and finish with creativity. This can be seen in his 65% conversion rate at the rim, which is really good for a guard who isn’t necessarily tall or an explosive vertically. Springer also proved that he can hit pull up shots and play off the ball and find ways to score with backdoor cuts.
The young guard was also a solid passer, able to keep his head up on drives and kicking out to shooters on time and with accuracy. He struggled with turnovers—his 60 TOs were only a few more than his 73 assists last season. Much like his defense, Springer boasts a versatility and feel for the game that is impressive for his age.
So what are some of the aforementioned concerns that scouts have? The thing that comes up the most is his lack of ability to create off of the dribble consistently. Again, because he is so young, there is still hope and time for him to improve on this. But because of his lack of explosiveness, both with his first step and at the rim, and a non-elite handle, he struggles to be a constant threat to create his own shot. 85% of his three-point makes were catch-and-shoot and he only made 34% of his two=pointers away from the rim. Add that to his turnover problems and you have a guard who is not a good enough ball handler and playmaker to be a 1 but too short to be a full-time 2 guard. The upside will be his age and his defense but the verdict is still out on if that is enough for teams to take him in the lottery.