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SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft: The Clippers select Jaden Springer at No. 25

A combo guard with high upside? Let’s do this.

Oregon State v Tennessee Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The 2021 NBA Draft is the last time the Clippers control their own first-round pick until 2027, by virtue of the Paul George trade. It’s imperative they get this pick right.

Fortunately, the mock draft lottery gods have smiled on the Clippers today, as the team was able to select Jaden Springer in the SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft. Springer is an 18-year-old one-and-done prospect out of Tennessee, and as the youngest player in this draft, could be a keeper for the Clippers for years to come.

Springer really pops on the defensive end. He could be a spiritual successor to Patrick Beverley as a guard defender. Springer is strong and puts his chest into opposing players. He moves his feet well and can fight over screens to contest jumpers. He forced steals on 2.7 percent of possessions, a strong number for a guard. Sam Vecenie called him “one of the best young on-ball defenders in college basketball.” Although Springer is only 6’4 with a 6’8 wingspan, he should be able to comfortably defend 1s and 2s. There’s also the hope that, given his age, Springer grows an inch or two and fills out to a more natural wing size.

Throughout this season, under the new Clippers coaching staff, the Clippers’ young players earned playing time due to their effort on the defensive end, and Springer could be an impact player on defense as early as this year.

On the offensive side of the ball, Springer’s best skill is getting to the rim, where he can finish, dump off a pass, or initiate drive-and-kick sequences. Springer is willing to absorb contact thanks to his frame, which improves his efficiency at the cup. He can’t really score away from the basket, though, and he isn’t creating shots for his teammates. That shouldn’t be an immediate problem for the Clippers, who would be able to harness his downhill juice better than most teams thanks to the team’s spacing.

Springer’s shooting offers hope. He shot 81 percent on free throws and 43.5 percent on threes, though he only had 46 attempts. The form of his jump shot, which is a little slow, may not translate to the NBA — Springer wasn’t doing much pulling up in college — but Clippers assistant Shaun Fein is around to work on the rookie’s shot.

Springer says he sees himself more as a secondary ball handler than a primary creator, so the Clippers wouldn’t exactly be getting their point guard of the future. However, this team’s offense can be fairly positionless — the Clippers just need someone who can make plays, and Springer fits that bill.

It’s somewhat surprising to see Springer fall this low in this exercise considering Ricky O’Donnell had him going 12th in the post-lottery SB Nation mock draft:

While Springer is typically projected to go outside of the lottery at this stage of the draft process, it feels like he could easily outplay that slot given his high school pedigree, aggressive point of attack defense, and scoring flashes. Springer was a takeover scorer at IMG Academy who rarely found easy offense on a Tennessee team that lacked spacing and creativity on that end. He was still able to manufacture looks for himself by bulldozing defenders with brute force to get near the basket.

Springer will have to learn scoring tricks around the rim and continue to develop as an outside shooter — he made 43.5 percent of his threes on only 46 attempts — but he can slot nicely into most team contexts as a combo guard who can run offense in a pinch, help get the team out in transition, and act as an off-ball scorer. As his offense develops, Springer should be immediately excellent against smaller guards on the defensive end.

The Clippers don’t exactly have a positional need heading into this year’s draft. Their goal should be to get the best available player, ideally not a center, so that he can play in the team’s small lineups. With a little seasoning, Springer could be that guy.