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Breaking down Jaden Springer’s assists against Texas A&M

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NCAA Basketball: Appalachian State at Tennessee Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

When I write my “Three Things,” articles, I like to include gifs and videos on the various topics when I can because it helps to reinforce my points with visual evidence.

But sometimes, time and/ or word constraints keep me from doing so. I didn’t get a chance to add my videos in to the story about the Texas A&M game even though I did post a bunch of them on Twitter after the game.

(If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you should. I live tweet the games as often as I can, and there’s a pretty consistent group of folks who watch and tweet along, too. We have a good time — join us.)

Jaden Springer — Maker of Plays

Freshman guard Jaden Springer has shown flashes of the lottery-pick status that was placed on him preseason. He’s a bully when he gets his Juggernaut-like momentum going toward the hoop, but he finishes with the patience and finesse of a much more experience player. He’s played more than 25 minutes just once (A&M, 30 minutes, his first career start), but he’s still managed to score in double figures six times. Three of the games that he scored 10 or fewer have explanations: one was his first-ever college game and two others were the ‘Bama game when he hurt his ankle and the Arkansas game when he played but the ankle wasn’t yet completely healthy.

He’s sporting the team’s second-highest usage rate at 24.4 percent and is still managing True-Shooting and effective field-goal percentages of 63 and 60 percent, respectively. Those two marks lead the team if you just look at players who’ve logged an average of 10 minutes played per game.

I talked about this in the A&M Three Things article, but allow me to rehash: With three new guards available this year (Victor Bailey, Keon Johnson and Springer) Head Coach Rick Barnes and the fanbase hoped one of those guys would take the reigns as the backup point guard to Santiago Vescovi and alleviate some of the pressure he feels from being the team’s only reliable ball handler.

And still, that dynamic hasn’t totally materialized. But, Bailey’s slowly gotten more comfortable handling the ball, and Springer’s game against A&M suggests that maybe the point-guard lightbulb in his head has dinged, “on.”

Springer had six assists and six turnovers, but post-game Barnes STILL said it was Springer’s best game yet at Tennessee. Coach isn’t one to heap undue praise, especially when a player turns the ball over one, two, three, four, five, six times. Barnes knows how valuable Springer could be to this team if he continues to see the floor like he did against A&M, and that positive value far outweighs the long-term detriment of Springer playing a little loose with the ball while finding his stride as a distributor.

I made a thread of Springer’s dimes on Twitter, so let’s look at some of those plays here.

Springer is right-handed, like 90 percent of the world’s population and what seems like less than 50 percent of Tennessee’s basketball team. In the above clip, Springer goes hard to his non-dominant side, draws a help defender and throws a SLICK, no-look bounce pass, with his left hand, to Yves Pons. Pons is rarely caught unaware or off-guard, and he’s not known to have bad hands. Still, this look from Springer hits Pons in the paws and ends up bouncing to the ground before Pons can gather himself and recollect the ball. He ends up missing the easy two. This is just the first of a few would-have-been assists for Springer, and he might have hit the 10-assist mark had his teammates not missed some easy opportunities.

A&M extended its defense both North/ South and East/ West to nearly the boundaries. Tennessee’s crisp passes meant there were a lot of chances to catch the defense in rotation and use that momentum against them. Above, we see one of my favorite plays from this game. Springer gets the pass on the wing and uses a ball fake to get his defender jumping in the air off one leg (that’s rarely a good thing on defense — bad leverage, no balance). He drives into the open space in the middle of the Aggies’ D.

<<INCOMING CROSS-SPORT METAPHOR>>

Then, like a quarterback looking left to move the single-high safety that direction and then turning his head right and letting the ball go to his WR whose beat his single coverage, Springer briefly glances to the wing. That short look is enough — The defender is watching his head/ eyes and dashes out to cover Vescovi. The poor guy soon realizes he’s just left the exact spot where the pass is really going. Pons catches the pocket pass and hits an easy 5-8 foot jumper.

I mentioned how A&M was extending out its defense and playing tight on the ball. The next video shows one way to counter that — with good floor spacing.

Tennessee is using damn-near all the available floor space here, and that opens up the action if somebody can beat his man off the dribble. Springer takes advantage of his defender shading toward the middle of the court by driving baseline. He’s beaten his man and knows he’s going to draw a help defender from the post. When he jumps there’s no real clear path for a pass, but he’s so damn athletic he just kinda glides through the air until he clears the defense. Then he throws a crazy one-handed bounce pass to Fulky for another easy two.

The degree of difficulty on that pass is extremely high even though it covers a relatively short distance. He had to maneuver through/ around the defense, anticipate Fulkerson’s position and manage to throw an accurate, one-handed bounce pass ALL IN THE TIME IT TOOK HIM TO JUMP UP AND THEN LAND. It looked easy, because Springer is such a smooth operator, but I promise it was anything but that.

This next play isn’t as flashy as some of these others, but basketball, especially at the guard position isn’t as much about being flashy or pretty as it is about consistently making sound decisions.

Springer gets the ball with seven seconds on the shot clock in the absolute worst place on the court — the corner. At another point in this game, we saw Springer dribbling the ball up after an A&M make and pick up his dribble literally RIGHT IN FRONT of the half court line. He stands for a second, unsure of what to do and the refs make the 10-second call. Extremely frustrating, but that kind of thing happens with freshmen guards.

This time, when he gets the ball in a tight spot, he doesn’t panic. He ends up with three A&M defenders in his vicinity, but instead of tripping out, he calmly makes a couple dribbles until his field of vision clears enough to make an entry pass through the defense to a cutting Fulkerson. That’s the sort of patience we’ve been seeing from Springer when he’s looking to score, and it’s encouraging to see him make the right play even though he wasn’t in the lane looking to finish.

This next play is the last one I made it to in my Twitter thread. You’ll see Springer with the ball on the near-side wing. Fulkerson and EJ Anosike will each come and set screens while facing each other. This is usually referred to as a “horns,” formation. The center, or the five, rolls to the rim while the power forward, or the four, pops out to the 3-point line. For the guard, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of teammates here, as pass to Fulkerson would be okay has good enough hands to catch a pass on a roll, but Anosike isn’t a threat from deep so throwing the ball to him that far away from the basket doesn’t make much sense.

Springer sees the defender’s hedge (in this case: the defender initially guarding the player who set the pick jumps out in front of the ball handler to try and interrupt the natural flow of the pick and roll play) coming and takes his dribble out wider than normal. This creates space so that he can cross back over to the middle of the floor and dive outside of his pick but inside the hedge defender.

After he crosses over, he keeps his pace so that the hedge defender stays right on top of him but at his back hip. With that player in his rearview, he knows the high-side wing defender is going to slide over and help, too. This is some acute manipulation. Once he has those two defenders where he wants them, he throws another (nico) suave, no-look bounce pass. Santi passes up a good shot to get a better one and kicks the ball to Bailey in the corner for a WIDE-OPEN 3. Bailey misses, but it was still just a beautiful possession for the Tennessee offense.

This was just a few examples, but I hope taking a closer look at these plays maybe gives you a little better appreciation for how well Springer played against Texas A&M, despite him having a box score that didn’t look overly impressive.