With Tom Thibodeau as head coach of the New York Knicks, defensive ability is a must for the players on the Knicks’ roster. That said, should the Knicks keep any of the four NBA draft picks that they currently own, those rookies will need to buy into defense to work well in New York.
But, beyond that, Thibodeau knows the Knicks need to better their offense. He brought up a need to add to their offense when he appeared on ESPN’s telecast of the NBA Draft Combine in late June.
If Jaden Springer goes to the Knicks at No. 21 as predicted by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic in his latest mock draft, then he could potentially help fulfill both needs. The guard from Tennessee worked out for the Knicks earlier this month, as reported by Alder Almo of Empire Sports Media.
Springer is projected to be selected somewhere in the 20s, so he is a realistic choice for the Knicks with the No. 21 pick — or even with the No. 19 pick if they like him enough to take him earlier.
Springer spent one season playing for Tennessee before he declared for the draft. He played 25 total games his freshman year, eventually becoming a starter. The guard led his team in scoring with 12.5 points on 46.7% shooting from the field, 43.5% from behind the 3-point line and 81.0% on free throws. In 25.9 minutes, he also put up 2.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.
These numbers earned him a spot on the 2021 SEC All-Freshman team.
During the NBA Draft Combine, he came in at 202.0 pounds, 6-foot-4.25 with shoes and 6-foot-3 without shoes. His wingspan was also measured at 6-foot-7.75. So he should match up well with most point guards in the league but will come up short against other perimeter players.
Springer doesn’t turn 19 until September, making him one of the youngest prospects in the draft. So his potential and room for growth is one thing that makes him appealing in the draft — especially since he isn’t outstanding at just any one thing. Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo mentioned that Springer doesn’t have “one elite skill, but a range of strengths that could feasibly coalesce into a starting-caliber guard.” He can score, make plays and defend, and he will get to further develop those skills at the professional level.
BasketballNews.com’s Derek Murray noted that, offensively, Springer is “active in transition, explosive getting downhill and has shown flashes of being a capable facilitator.” This not only could help the Knicks add to their scoring but also partially fill their playmaking need.
Springer has good shooting percentages at 46.7% from the field and 43.5% for 3-pointers. But given the fact he averaged fewer than 2 3-point field goal attempts in 25 games, the percentage does come from a small sample size.
Defense, however, seems to be the area where Springer will make the biggest impact right away. SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell highlighted Springer’s defensive game in his top-30 draft prospects ranking:
Springer’s defense was immediately impactful with the Vols, as he swallowed up opposing guards at the point of attack and ripped ball handlers with hard digs as a help defender.
If Springer were to end up on the Knicks, that defense is what could get him immediate minutes.
Springer hasn’t taken care of the ball well. At Tennessee, he posted a near 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio with his averages of 2.9 assists and 2.4 turnovers. So that is an area that will need improvement, especially if he will be in the lead guard role.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor took note of Springer’s trouble with one-on-one matchups and a slow shot release.
Similarly, Woo said Springer needs to work on his jumper and “expand his offensive skill set.” Vecenie also pointed out shooting as a weakness, mentioning that his “overall numbers look good, but the shooting splits are not quite as strong.”