Why the Washington Wizards should target Jaden Springer at #15

Washington Wizards Jaden Springer. Mandatory Credit: Albert Cesare/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards Jaden Springer. Mandatory Credit: Albert Cesare/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports /

Heading into the 2021 NBA Draft, the first order of business for fans of the Washington Wizards should be to temper the expectations. Since 1991, there have been three superstars (Steve Nash, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo) taken with the 15th overall pick. Three out of 30, or 10% — roughly the same proposition as Nash missing a free throw. You willing to put your money on that?

In reality, a large chunk of past selections at #15 washed out of the league soon after. Think Reece Gaines, Austin Daye, or Adreian Payne. The median outcomes are mostly made up of solid, yet flawed contributors to a rotation — a Rodney Stuckey, a Kelly Oubre Jr. (oops), a Troy Brown Jr. (double oops). With that in mind, what should Wizards fans hope for during the 2021 NBA Draft?

Let’s begin with two main premises:

1. This player will NOT help them win now

It’s funny how we always say older college players (Davion Mitchell, Chris Duarte this year) are more “NBA-ready.” Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers adopted this reasoning last decade — using first-round picks on C.J. Wilcox (23-years old), Reggie Bullock (22), and Brice Johnson (22). Instead of providing an instant impact, those guys couldn’t earn any tick for a team in desperate need of depth pieces (Glen Davis and sleeved/washed Hedo Turkoglu in elimination games!).

Rookies are nearly always bad, and with Tommy Sheppard’s recent draft history, the Washington Wizards are definitely not an exception to the rule — this is no Memphis Grizzlies situation.

2. Drafting for fit should be a consideration

Given point #1, as well as the fluidity of Bradley Beal’s (and Russell Westbrook’s) future with the organization, going best player available should be the default, right? My answer: yes, to an extent. If a talent such as a Moses Moody or a Franz Wagner (or perhaps even Alperen Sengun, who I didn’t have as much time to watch) inexplicably falls to #15, then by all means, pick them. But barring that, fit needs to be a consideration.

Aside from Beal and Westbrook, here’s who the Wizards have the most invested in:

Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija: back-to-back #9 picks

Davis Bertans: 3 years/$49MM + $5MM guaranteed in 2024-25 remaining on his contract

Daniel Gafford: 2 more years at the league minimum

Thomas Bryant: 1 year/$8.7MM remaining, the franchise has always been high on him

Drafting another 3/4 hybrid or a center would only further add to the glut in the frontcourt, which would do a disservice to all parties involved — both in terms of development and on-court play.

So what exactly should Washington be aiming for? Here’s what my list of priorities would be:

1. Balancing out this roster

We all watched the first-round series against Philadelphia. Whether it was Beal getting tasked with the Tobias Harris matchup (because Rui couldn’t handle it and Deni was out), or Raul Neto getting roasted by Seth Curry in Game 5, one theme was clear: the 2021 Washington Wizards were not a real team. Further, they were the most anemic three-point shooting group in the league — criminal for a squad led by two high-octane creators. Upgrading the perimeter defense and shooting is a must, both in the short and long-term.

2. Finding some upside

As David Aldridge of the Athletic so eloquently laid-out, it’s time for Washington to end the charade and show some real ambition. Instead, the organization is desperately chasing *just* enough wins to keep the eternal-optimist Bradley Beal onboard. Ted Leonsis is the Lyle Lanley of NBA owners, and most people at this point see right through it.

This situation could change at any time. Which is why the opportunity cost of passing up on superior long-term talent is too great. Of course you don’t want to go solely on upside, but it needs to be considered for this pick. You can view a player’s ceiling in many different ways. In this range at #15, I believe that upside represents a player who could potentially be a reliable primary or secondary shot-creator.

So which of the projected mid-round prospects most adequately fill these criteria?

The case for the Washington Wizards drafting Jaden Springer

Jaden Springer, a one-and-done guard out of Tennessee, offers the most intriguing intersection of upside and balance. He brings the stellar team-defense of Isaac Bonga, only with a few less inches but quicker feet (so less fouls). Springer is already more than capable as a point-of-attack guy as well. At 202 pounds and a 6’7.75″ wingspan, the hope is that he’ll grow into a multi-positional defender. Watch here as he matches the physicality of Juwan Gary on Alabama and forces a tough shot.

Springer’s jump shot is a bit more dicey. While the percentages (43.5 percent from deep, 81.0 percent from the line) are robust, it drastically overstates Jaden Springer’s gravity. He passes up tons of catch-and-shoot looks and made just 20 three-pointers.

Yes, he has a slow release. But I’m optimistic that Springer’s jumper will continue to progress. We saw baby steps at Tennessee and all of the underlying touch indicators are encouraging. Seriously, what kind of non-shooter has the moxy to nail these types of attempts?

It’s likely going to take a change in mindset/confidence. In the meantime, Springer would have the chance to find his way onto the floor through defense under Wes Unseld Jr. — think Monte Morris or P.J. Dozier early in their careers. The offense is less clear, time will tell if Unseld is successful in implementing a free-flowing system (a la Steve Kerr after Mark Jackson) or if the Russell Westbrook show marches on (Billy Donovan after Scott Brooks).

The difference between Jaden Springer and most players in this range: Springer has pathways towards creator equity. It starts with the self-generated shots. Due to an idiosyncratic one-on-one game — featuring jab steps and change of speeds with a low center of gravity  — Springer gained paint touches at ease at the college level. And through strength and powerful jump stops, he draws heaps of fouls once he gets there. Jaden also had enough flashes of creative passing windows, even if the assist numbers aren’t particularly rosy. Combine that with the fact that he’s the youngest American in this year’s draft (born September 25, 2002, exactly 1 year younger than Cade Cunningham), and that Rick Barnes’ offense never does anyone any favors (sound familiar?); and Jaden Springer’s upside becomes apparent.

Jaden Springer would be a valuable piece for this Wizards franchise as it turns the chapter towards the inevitable. If he’s off the board, then my backup would be Ziaire Williams — an enticing talent who had a very Cam Reddish-y season at Stanford. None of the older players do it for me. When Chris Duarte was Springer’s age he was still a junior in high school. Corey Kispert and Trey Murphy seem redundant with Bertans (and Garrison Mathews to a lesser extent). I’d go with Jared Butler over either of those three.

To wrap it up, here’s a clip of Jaden Springer mixing top-five pick Jalen Suggs.

Next. 3 bigs the Wizards could draft at #15. dark