EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns pick Tennessee’s Jaden Springer in ESPN’s latest NBA mock draft

May 25, 2021, 8:06 AM

Tennessee's Jaden Springer (11) brings the ball down the court in the second half of an NCAA colleg...

Tennessee's Jaden Springer (11) brings the ball down the court in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Having just begun their 2021 playoff run, the Phoenix Suns sit far from putting the NBA Draft atop their priority list.

But the offseason is two months away, and because the Suns have looming free-agency questions in their backcourt, the draft will provide restocking opportunities.

Do they take an older, plug-and-play prospect at the 29th overall pick, where they’re locked in after earning the second-best record in the NBA?

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony thinks the Suns can have a little more patience. His latest mock draft released on Thursday has Phoenix selecting 18-year-old Tennessee product Jaden Springer in the first round.

With much of the Suns’ backcourt depth entering free agency, it could make sense for Phoenix to swing for the fences in selecting Springer. The Tennessee guard is both one of the youngest players in this draft class and one of its best perimeter defenders. He is a strong, instinctual scorer whose ability to get out in transition and into the lane with his powerful first step should help him carve out a role as his perimeter shooting and decision-making continue to evolve.

As a freshman, Springer played 25 games and started 15. He averaged 12.9 points, 2.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 26 minutes per game.

While his decision-making and feel as a true point guard appeared raw, the 6-foot-4, 204-pound guard flashed a lot of things to like.

He has a low and thick build that combined with his lateral quickness allows him to body drive attempts. His length helps there, too.

As an offensive player, he’s got a first step and a little shake that allows him to get downhill and finish through contact. Springer is not an explosive leaper and his handles are questionable, but if he’s able to get to the rim he can finish (65%, per Hoop-Math.com).

Though he’s a bigger guard, Springer on both ends has a good feel for squeezing through tights spaces to get to his spots.

The freshman shot 47% overall and 44% from three-point range on a very selective 1.8 attempts per game. His set shot, while quite mechanical, worked.

Springer’s mid-range game and pick-and-roll feel will need to be developed, and that will determine if he’ll be closer to a Kyle Lowry-style lead guard or a Marcus Smart-type off-ball utility piece.

Assuming the Suns bring back Chris Paul, regardless of whether he picks up his player option or signs a long-term deal, Phoenix can manage waiting to find out.

But then they’ll need to do some work in free agency with backup guards Cam Payne, Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore all hitting unrestricted free agency heading into 2021-22.

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