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Springer, Martin two of the most interesting Sixers as deadline approaches

Springer, Martin two of the most interesting Sixers as deadline approaches originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

ATLANTA — The Sixers aren’t prioritizing potential above all these days.

For head coach Nick Nurse, it’s eminently sensible to continue playing 23-year-old star Tyrese Maxey through minor slumps and missteps. But for young players on the edge of an aspiring title contender’s rotation, there’s minimal leeway.

That’s one reason why Jaden Springer and KJ Martin are among the most interesting Sixers as the Feb. 8 trade deadline nears. Flashes of talent lead you to wonder what might be possible with regular minutes, whether Springer’s strong point-of-attack defense or Martin’s explosiveness might nicely complement Maxey and Joel Embiid’s games in the years to come.

And a subpar stint or two means consistent minutes likely won’t be right around the corner.

Nurse offered a detailed response Tuesday when asked about Springer’s development.

“Listen, his opportunities are a little sporadic, obviously,” Nurse said. “It’s not easy to figure out what’s happening when you’re in and out, but that’s just the reality of our bench and the reality of the situation for him. He’s got to make the most of his opportunities and the times that he does get a chance.

“We like him. I think he provides certain things that fill some gaps for us — great on-ball defense, an extra possession-getter, etc. It’s still going to come down to can he make some perimeter shots? ... He didn’t make any the other night, but at least he took ‘em. When I first got here, he was a hesitant shooter. And we’ve tried to say to him, ‘Listen, if it’s in rhythm and it comes out to you, you’ve got to take ‘em.’ It’s just going to gum up the offense (if you don’t); it’s going to undo the rhythm. If it’s a rhythm three, you’ve got to take it.

“Continue to do that (and) make some of those. And then he’s got to understand that he’s got to cut his foul rate down some. He’s got to do that. There’s times when fouls are needed and important, right? Those are fine. If you’re challenging at the rim and making an (impact) there to take away a bucket, that’s good. But you can’t commit them 84 feet from the basket when they’re in the bonus, or get us quickly into the bonus when you start the fourth quarter or something like that.”

Springer indeed took the open jumpers available Saturday in the Sixers’ loss to the Jazz. However, following an 0-for-8 homestand, he’s at 5 for 25 this season from three-point range.

In the preseason, Springer went 7 for 8. He’s seemed to have issues smoothly calibrating his dip and shooting a fluid, well-balanced jumper on some catch-and-shoot tries, but Springer certainly appears capable of producing better long-distance results.

Nurse’s point about his frequent fouling is fair. The 21-year-old’s 6.2 foul percentage outside of garbage time is highest on the Sixers, per Cleaning the Glass.

There’s zero wrong with Springer's instincts to stay tight to his man and go hard every second. That's yielded plenty of positive plays.

Still, there are times when Springer would be best off recognizing that a bump or extra bit of effort isn’t helpful.

Martin’s been in a similar spot as Springer — receiving rotation chances here and there, playing late in blowouts, occasionally featuring on shorthanded nights.

The two actually had a connection before Martin joined the Sixers early this year in the James Harden deal.

“We were (at IMG Academy) at the same time,” Springer said in November. “I played on the high school team and he did a post-graduate (year). So we were on different teams, but we were always around each other.”

Martin played 17 minutes vs. Utah and posted nine points on 4-for-7 shooting, including three dunks.

Maxey was quite impressed.

“He was huge, man — the way he plays in the dunker, the way he plays in the short roll, the way he defends,” Maxey said. “He’s just so athletic. I hit him one time ... and he just jumped. And I was like, ‘Good lord, I wish I could do that sometimes.’

“But he’s been great, man. He’s patient, he’s waited. When he gets out there, he always shows something in his opportunities.”

Beyond his pure bounce, Martin’s knack for reading off-script situations has stood out. He’s demonstrated that he can make savvy cuts, slide into openings, and attack in transition.

“Just what I’ve showed my past three other years (in the NBA). Just my ability, my athleticism to guard multiple positions and make plays for others,” Martin said Monday. “In practice I just keep sticking with it, doing what I'm supposed to do every day.

“And in the game, I don’t try to do too much. I understand who’s on my team, I understand who’s on the floor with me ... and I try to help them out and just feed off of that.”

The only three Sixers currently under contract past this season are Embiid, Springer and Paul Reed.

We’ll have a slightly better sense of the team’s future on Feb. 9. And we’ll see what’s next for two intriguing Sixers youngsters with a considerably lower profile than Maxey.