Jaden Springer’s instincts told him to crash the offensive glass and slam in a put-back dunk Tuesday night.
After the game, the 20-year-old guard didn’t quite possess the same sense for where to be. Following the brightest showing of Springer’s brief NBA career, a Sixers public relations official asked in the locker room whether he could speak with reporters at the podium in the team’s press conference room.
“I don’t even know where to go,” Springer said.
He’s been a frequent traveler in his second professional season, bouncing back and forth between the Sixers and their G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. But, with the Sixers on their way to a season-high 147 points and a near-effortless victory at Wells Fargo Center over the shorthanded, 11-win Pistons, Springer had a rare chance to get relatively comfortable in an NBA game.
He did well with it. Along with that put-back slam, he made three layups and two free throws in his nine minutes. Springer’s 10 points were one higher than his total from seven prior NBA outings.
“It’s been all over the place,” Springer said with a smile of his season. “It’s been kind of like a rollercoaster. Really, I’m just making the best of it, enjoying my time. I learned last year that everything’s unpredictable, so just stay ready and embrace every opportunity, no matter if it’s here or in the G League — wherever they want me at. So just make the best of it.”
It would’ve been perfectly appropriate for Sixers head coach Doc Rivers to hand Springer a generic compliment or two related to his effort level. He went considerably further than that in his assessment of the 2021 NBA draft's 28th pick.
“He was great,” Rivers said. “Jaden, I’m telling you … this is probably a hell of a statement, but I think he’s going to be an elite defender. I really do. He’s naturally physical. He has a chance to be a good player on the defensive end, and then the offensive part by his cutting, by his rebounding. He does things that he has a chance to be a good player.”
Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey shared similar thoughts on Springer this summer, saying the team expected him to take a “huge step” in Year 2. That hasn’t happened yet. Almost all of Springer’s minutes have come with the Blue Coats. He also hasn’t demonstrated major shooting improvement. Between the G League Showcase Cup and regular season, Springer has gone 8 for 29 (27.6 percent) from three-point range, per Basketball Reference. His shot is clearly a work in progress.
Shooting aside, Rivers is a fan of Springer’s competitiveness and how he's added a bit of youthful energy to practices and post-shootaround sessions.
“That’s who he is,” Rivers said. “That’s why we love him. ... That’s why we’ve taken him off the G League team a lot this year, just to have him in our practices. Especially in the middle of the year, you have practice and half the guys don’t want to practice. And Jaden shows up, and whoever he’s guarding has to practice because Jaden is. It’s a good thing to have on your team.”
The star teammates that have seen Springer behind the scenes enjoyed his moment in the spotlight.
“I was telling Doc to put him in earlier,” James Harden said after posting a second consecutive triple-double. “He puts the work in, goes back and forth between here and the G League. He works extremely hard, so let it show off, and tonight he did a really good job on both ends of the ball. Young guys, the more they can get reps like that in game situations, the more comfortable they’ll be.”
Returning from a three-game absence with left foot soreness, Joel Embiid scored 36 points in 24 minutes. He then got to sit back and watch Springer.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of good players on the team and that’s on the staff to make those decisions, but he’s a guy, if you put him out there for Detroit, I think he would’ve gotten a lot of minutes,” Embiid said. “He’s talented. Defensively, I think he has a lot of potential on that end.
“And then offensively, just being a slasher and just using his quickness, I think he can get a lot of minutes. But when you’re on a winning team and there’s a lot of guys that can play, it’s going to happen. But I think he’s pretty talented and he’s just got to get a chance.”
Reps certainly matter for Springer, who’s had his rhythm and development unfortunately disrupted several times. Last season, he entered health and safety protocols, sustained a concussion, and dealt with a left knee injury. This November, he suffered a right quadriceps strain.
He’s appreciated the value of extended minutes in the G League.
“I feel like just being able to adjust to the pace of the game, being able to slow down and make better reads,” Springer said. “My offensive game got better. Defensively, I feel like I’ve taken that next step. My all-around game and just my IQ of the game have probably grown the most.”
When the Sixers host the Thunder on Thursday night, Springer will not make an encore.
A team official said Wednesday morning that he’s again been assigned to the Blue Coats and will be available for Delaware’s game Thursday against the Maine Celtics.