CAMDEN, N.J. — It had been over two weeks since Jaden Springer played basketball against another team.
That changed Saturday night when the 21-year-old guard joined the Delaware Blue Coats for their game vs. the Greensboro Swarm. Springer, who was the G League Finals MVP last season, had 19 points in a 139-119 Delaware victory.
After missing two late November games with an illness, Springer hasn’t received any playing time for the Sixers.
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“I just wanted to send him down there as a one-gamer,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said Sunday following his team’s practice. “He had the illness and some time away, and he hasn’t hit the court for a while. I just feel like these guys do absolutely as much as they can do, him included. He’s an early-to-practice, late-to-leave practice guy. We play a lot of those ... we call them ‘rise-up games’ after practice that are live.
“But I still don’t think it’s as good as actual live competition. I still think there’s competing and reading and handling that kind of stuff that keeps guys sharper. … I thought it was a good time. He’d been off for a couple weeks, we didn’t have a game that day, didn’t have a game the next day. … And I thought he did good. He really looked like he could get to the front of the rim just about any time he wanted to.
“We want him to continue to work on off-ball defense — readiness, reading, things like that. And I still want him to look at shooting the three-ball more. I thought, again, there’s things he can do pretty easily last night in that game. I think it was good for him overall.”
Springer’s defensive ball pressure, offensive rebounding and general tenacity have all shined on occasion in his third NBA season. However, he’s only gone 3 for 12 from three-point range in his limited opportunities, and two of those makes came in the fourth quarter of a blowout win over the Nets. His chances to gain rhythm and confidence haven’t been extensive at all.
Nurse has viewed Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton and Patrick Beverley as being the Sixers’ clear top three guards. Maxey has missed just one of the team’s 21 games. Melton and Beverley have played in all of them.
“I think it’s hard sometimes to be a role player,” Nurse said. “You don’t get any reps; you get one or two here and there. In one game, you might get two chances to drive the ball. He can go down there and do it 25 times. It’s good. He needs the reps to go in there, make the read, make the pass, move it around.
“I just think it’s really hard to get better if you’re not playing in some type of real game. That’s why I hoped he could go down there, and he did a good job.”
The Sixers’ defense has been much weaker than their offense during the stretch in which Springer’s been fully out of the rotation.
Across those six games, the team has ranked first in offensive rating and 21st in defensive rating, according to Cleaning the Glass. And going back a half-dozen more games, the Sixers’ 118.6 defensive rating since their 8-1 start is 22nd in the NBA.
Unsurprisingly, Sunday’s practice was defense-centric.
“We’re just trying to build the habits,” Nurse said. “A lot of it has to do with how we’re getting over screens in all phases — ball screens, down screens, double screens — continual reps of that kind of stuff.
“We worked some more on our ’13’ (1-3-1) zone defense. … We’re not getting that thing off to a very good start, so we’re not able to see very much of it. So we’ve got to get it set up a little bit better. As a coaching staff, we’re trying to figure out how that might look. It might not look as much like a '13' at the start as it (does) right now. We’re kind of polishing up like that.”
Joel Embiid participated in the practice after having an injury scare with his left knee Friday night in the Sixers’ victory over the Hawks and Nurse said he “looked pretty good.” The Sixers officially listed Embiid as questionable with left knee soreness.
The next game on the Sixers’ schedule happens to be against a team Embiid scored 50 points on a few days ago.
Though they’re 3-18 this season, the Wizards did make the Sixers sweat plenty on Wednesday.
“I mean, we were down in the fourth quarter the last two games,” Nicolas Batum said. “You’ve got to be careful because you’re playing against NBA players. We don’t care about their record, they are NBA players. It’s an NBA team, so we’ve got to show up tomorrow … and not count on Joel to get 50.
“I’m serious, though. It’s great if he gets 50, but we can’t count on that. We have to try to start the game (well) on defense and on offense, do what we do. We have to respect ourselves, respect the game, and go out there and play the game the right way.”