Since coming to Philadelphia, Georges Niang has embraced the mindset that comes with playing for the city. During his media day, he referenced being a Northeast kid growing up near Boston as preparation for this. The 28-year-old has been limited in his NBA role throughout his career and has capitalized on the opportunity that the Sixers have given him. While it is only 14 games into the season, Niang is averaging a career-high in minutes, points, assists, and three-point attempts. In addition, he has played with an infectious swagger and become an emotional difference-maker on the Sixers.
The name Georges Niang first became known during his accomplished four-year career at Iowa State. He had an impressive college career where he scored 2000+ points and led the team to a sweet 16 trip twice. Niang averaged 16.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists during his four years at Iowa State. He set a number of program records including the first player to reach the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons, first two-time All-American, most games played, and most wins.
Even dating back to his time in college, Niang was an odd positional fit on the court. Standing 6’7 he lacks the size to be a true big man but is not quick enough to match up on the perimeter. Niang has lost a great deal of weight since his time in college which has helped him become more effective in the NBA. He was electrifying to watch at Iowa State as he served as the focal point of the offense. Despite him lacking some of the athletic expectations and other factors looked at when evaluating prospects, Niang possessed a grittiness and ability that was tough to doubt.
Early NBA Career:
This spark and grittiness led the Indiana Pacers to take a chance on him and select Georges Niang with the 50th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The forward had several assignments with the G-League team and, despite drawing praise from Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird, played just 23 minutes of NBA action with the Pacers.
Following his rookie season, Niang signed with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G-League and spent almost the entirety of the 2017-18 season with the team. It wasn’t until he was given an opportunity with the Utah Jazz with a two-way contract late in the season that he was given an NBA chance once again.
After proving to be successful in the opportunity, the Jazz singed Niang to a standard deal at the conclusion of the season. He proved to be a fan-favorite and was nicknamed “the Minivan,” and “fat Curry,” by the Jazz fans. Over the next three seasons, Niang grew into an effective rotational piece of the Jazz bench. He saw an increase in minutes each season and provided more production as a result of this.
Last season Niang played in 72 games and even started 10 with the Jazz. He averaged 16 minutes per game and added 6.9 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 42.5% from beyond the three-point arc. Niang was looked to as a reliable floor spacer off the bench but was not given much freedom in the style of his play.
Opportunity with the Sixers:
The Sixers have been starved for a reliable backup power forward for several years. It was somewhat of a surprise when it was reported that Daryl Morey inked Georges Niang to a two-year $6.7 million contract prior to the season. Even at 28-years old, he was somewhat unproven and this has been his greatest chance at extended NBA minutes. With Niang sacrificing great parts of his game to make the NBA leap in the years leading up, it was a worthy gamble by Morey that “the Minivan” had more to offer still in the tank.
Now 14 games into the season, Niang averages 23.1 minutes per game where he has provided 12 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. These are career-high marks across the board and Niang has flashed several areas of improvement that had not previously been seen. Whether it be the impressive passing reads, the awkward but effective floaters, or simply the willingness to catch and shoot, Niang has been incredibly important to the Sixers’ second unit.
While so much thought is given to the roster construction aspect, taking a look into the players’ mindsets can be equally as valuable. The opportunity that the Sixers have given Niang to go out and be himself is one that he has not previously had as a professional. The sniper has made great sacrifices to his body and style of play in order to fit the NBA mold and is now playing with the larges amount of freedom he ever has had. It has been exciting to watch the raw emotion and his natural competitiveness in his game, and Niang has been extremely important to the Sixers’ successful start to the season.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire