Pros and Cons: NY Knicks drafting Jaden Springer in 2021 NBA Draft

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Jaden Springer treated image
Jaden Springer treated image

While it’s unclear where the Knicks truly may end up picking in the 2021 NBA Draft with two first-round and two second-round selections to juggle, they’re set up to take advantage of this latest crop of talent coming in.

Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of potential draft options for the Knicks, this time with Tennessee's Jaden Springer.

The case for drafting Springer

Springer is a very athletic, bouncy prospect who, despite his age, could contribute immediately to the Knicks with his defense. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound combo guard was a high-motor pest at Tennessee this past season, a quality sure to grab Tom Thibodeau’s attention.

Though scheduled to suit up for his first NBA game at the ripe age of 19, Springer may already be an impact defender. He’s got one of the best defensive stances of any college player, constantly keeping his center of gravity as low as possible as he slides laterally without hiccups. Even when mismatched onto a big, Springer was often able to hold his ground.

His 6-foot-6 wingspan and good hands made it a chore to get anything through him. Since entering the starting lineup mid-season, he averaged 1.3 steals a night. This makes Springer an intriguing choice to play alongside Immanuel Quickley off the bench, with the latter being more offense-oriented. Springer could serve as the secondary ball-handler or bail-out option while masking some of IQ’s deficiencies on the other end.

Of course, he’ll need to contribute on both ends, and although Springer does have some offensive rawness, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic. For starters, his athleticism predictably gets him great finishing looks, which he converts efficiently. He attempted four free throws a night at a solid clip, a major plus that can translate to the next level. With increased pace and spacing, Springer should feed as an off-ball mover and attacker, with the right random cuts leading to easy baskets, though this isn’t his game at the moment.

You can’t play guard in the NBA without some shooting, and Springer made 43.5 percent of his threes, albeit on few attempts. His form is solid, and we’ve seen him have success at the stripe (81 percent) and on in-between pull-ups, indicators of good things to come.

Springer may be New York’s best chance at drafting their cake and eating it, too. Where normally they’d be deciding between a more developed junior or senior that may have a smaller ceiling or a young, raw project -- Springer is a bit of both. He could win himself a rotation spot out of the gates with his defense, and if the rest of his game develops as planned, there’s still plenty of room to grow into a high-level player.

Mar 19, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Oregon State Beavers guard Ethan Thompson (5) dribbles the ball while defended by Tennessee Volunteers guard Jaden Springer (11) during the second half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Mar 19, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Oregon State Beavers guard Ethan Thompson (5) dribbles the ball while defended by Tennessee Volunteers guard Jaden Springer (11) during the second half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The case against drafting Springer

Springer’s bread and butter may be his defense, but his build makes it tougher to become that level of stopper in the NBA. Everyone’s much quicker and stronger, and everyone switches. Will Springer have the same success once he has to switch onto a small forward that has four inches on him? How many defenders at 6-foot-4 and under are actually good enough to make tangible positive impacts on help defense?

Even more questions surround Springer’s offense. Athleticism helped him a great deal in college, but his skills on this end need some gym hours. His handle is limited to a small number of moves, a few of which connect, but he’s not juking anybody out of their spot early on. Even when he powers his way to the paint, there’s little shiftiness or creativity -- just a two-legged jump into whoever’s in front. We’ll need to see some fakes, floaters or euro-steps before his bag begins to look like a complete guard’s.

As mentioned previously, Springer will only be 19 heading into his first NBA season. With the Knicks coming off the season they had, if he’s more of a project than initially expected, it could end up a wasted pick, with few minutes to go around for rookies to make mistakes in. The Knicks had a Top-5 defense last season -- having a neophyte try and develop offensive poise on a team that needs more of it doesn’t seem like the right choice.