Georges Niang Has Grown Into Surprising Sixers X-Factor

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CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 29: Philadelphia 76ers forward Georges Niang (20) reacts to making a three point basket during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls on October 29, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

There were not lofty expectations when it was announced the Philadelphia 76ers signed Georges Niang to a two-year deal ahead of the 2021-22 season. The Iowa State product had never eclipsed 16 minutes per game and was a spotty rotational player throughout his NBA career. However, ‘The Minivan’ has rapidly grown into a key part of the Sixers’ rotation and will end up playing a much larger role than many would have guessed. With a craftiness, shooting ability, and swagger that has endeared him to the city, Niang will end up playing a crucial part as the Sixers chase their goals.

Niang’s On-Court Fit with the Sixers

Spacing has been the name of the game for the Sixers’ supporting cast throughout the entire Joel Embiid era. The six-time all-star and reigning scoring champ commands massive attention on every possession. As teams shift toward him heavily, even before Embiid touches the ball, it is essential to have guys who will punish teams when they are left open.

Niang has answered this call. In his most expanded opportunity as a professional, the former 50th overall pick has established himself as one of the best shooters across the NBA. Throughout the 131 games he has played in a Sixers uniform, Niang has connected on 40.6% of his three-point attempts while launching 5.2 per game. The career-high volume has been matched by Niang’s efficiency, as he ranks 24th in the NBA in three-point percentage this year.

The willingness to shoot has also made Niang a perfect match on the court with James Harden. The duo runs a variety of pick-and-pop sets which force defenders to make a decision between making Harden the priority or giving Niang an open three-point attempt.

In the 448:05 game minutes that Embiid and Niang have shared the floor, the Sixers have outscored opponents by 12.8 points per 100 possessions. In the 357:49 game minutes Harden and Niang played together, Philadelphia has scored 12.6 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents. The trio of Embiid, Harden, and Niang have tallied just 170 game minutes together but still have produced an impressive +12.3 net rating.

Can Niang Hold Up Defensively?

For everything that he brings on the offensive side of the floor, the concern for Niang is his defense. Standing 6’7” with limited athleticism, there are some matchups in which the 29-year-old struggles.

On the positive side, Niang can be counted on to compete on an every-possession basis. His endless trash talk, physicality, and unwavering confidence in himself are enough at times. You will not find him backing down regardless of the opponent.

However, sometimes the amount of heart cannot make up for his lack of size and slow feet. Niang does not possess the size and vertical ability to guard big men and struggles to keep up with quicker players on the perimeter. With perimeter defense and rebounding already a consistent problem for the Sixers, adding Niang to the floor compounds this and is troublesome in certain lineups.

In the regular season, Niang’s defense is passable, and his play is extremely important to the Sixers. However, every weakness is maximized in the playoffs. Teams will not hesitate to target opponents’ weakest defenders and do whatever off-ball movements or necessary to create the matchup they desire. As the game slows down and every possession becomes more deliberate, the Sixers may truly find out if Niang’s defense can hold up.

How Large Will Niang’s Role Be?

There is no doubt that Niang will have a role with the Sixers in the postseason. He currently ranks 8th on the team in minutes at 19.8 per game. The skillset he possesses is vital to the team as he is the most reliable perimeter shooter on the team. His 40.9% three-point percentage ranks first on the team (minimum five attempts), and his 9.6 three-point attempts per 36 minutes lead by a major margin as Harden is next at 7.1.

The volume of P.J. Tucker and Tobias Harris will not be enough to count on. De’Anthony Melton’s shooting has begun to cool down from his red-hot start, and Jalen McDaniels is still in his honeymoon period where he is just 2-3 on three-point attempts thus far in his Sixers career. Neither Furkan Korkmaz nor Danuel House Jr have been consistent enough to stick in the rotation. With three-pointer shooting reliability becoming nearly the sink-or-swim characteristic for NBA role players, Niang will give the Sixers the best chance of staying afloat.

Optimists may point to the knee injury that Niang battled as the reason for his defensive struggles last postseason. With 25 games to play, this will be put to the test shortly. Niang’s importance has only grown within the team this season, and the balance between his ability to knock down shots and his impact defensively may swing several playoff games.