A short time ago, Georges Niang was coming off a stretch wherein he had nailed five 3-pointers and spurred a fourth-quarter rally in Orlando, helped blow away the Charlotte Hornets with another quintet of triples, and appeared so locked in from beyond the arc (he’d risen to second in the league in 3P%) that a reporter asked him postgame how big the hoop looked at the moment.
“Um, it looks the normal size,” Niang deadpanned, “but it feels really good shooting the ball.”
A collective 0-for-9 slump from deep in Washington, Brooklyn, and New Orleans later, and out have come the social media hordes insisting that if his shot isn’t falling, Niang doesn’t really provide a whole lot for the Jazz.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder does not share that opinion.
“Georges has a lot of feel. And he’s a playmaker,” Snyder said. “When you see him making shots, that obviously stands out — certainly it does to us, too. But if you see him in transition, he can put the ball on the floor, and he can pass the ball. He just knows how to play the game; he’s easy to play with.”
Following the Jazz’s overtime loss to the Pelicans on Thursday night, much was made of how the 10-game winning streak that preceded it was sparked by Rudy Gobert’s transcendent play on both sides of the ball, by Donovan Mitchell’s almost effortless bucket-getting in the clutch, by Jordan Clarkson’s aggressive and forceful uplifting of the bench unit. There was even some talk from superstitious folk about how Mitchell’s “Baby Yoda” social media avatar was to thank.
What’s gone overlooked to some degree is how Niang has grabbed hold of an expanded role over that same timeframe.
When veteran forward and offseason addition Jeff Green was shockingly released following the team’s Dec. 23 loss in Miami, and the team’s front office subsequently explained the decision by stating that they wanted to see what Niang could do with some additional opportunity, the rationale was widely perceived as a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking intended to obfuscate some behind-the-scenes drama.
But actually, given the way Niang followed up on the court, it turns out there may have been something to it.
“He’s a guy that’s not really talked about, but one that should be. He’s a guy that puts in a lot of work. We respect him, we all love him, he brings the same energy every day, good or bad,” Mitchell said of Niang following the victory over the Magic. “It’s days like this, when you see him hoop the way he’s been hooping, it’s incredible to see. We love it, I’m happy for him, and I expect more [of this] out of him.”
GEORGES NIANG AT A GLANCE
• 26-year-old was born in Lawrence, Mass.
• An All-American at Iowa State, he is second in scoring in the Cyclones’ program history.
• Drafted No. 50 overall by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft.
• Signed a nonguaranteed three-year, $5 million deal with the Jazz on July 13, 2018.
• Averaging 5.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in 13.2 minutes this season, but ranks seventh in the NBA in 3-point percentage (43.6%).
That work ethic has stood out to Snyder, as well.
Despite a collegiate career that saw him finish as Iowa State’s second-all-time-leading scorer, Niang was taken at No. 50 in the 2016 NBA Draft by Indiana, and had to make his way in the NBA by impressing in summer leagues, training camps, and even on the developmental circuit. Beyond that, he’s had to transform his game from high-volume gunner to opportunistic sniper.
“He’s fought to get to this place, he’s fought to get in the league,” Snyder said. “… He’s mentally tough, and that’s a function of how he’s had to fight not just to get into the league but to have a role. I think he appreciates that. He’s about the team winning.”
Speaking of Niang’s role — yeah, a big part of it is drilling open 3s. In spite of the recent slump, he’s still seventh in the NBA, converting 43.6%. Of course, his role also entails pushing the ball in transition, chasing smallball fours around the perimeter, even keeping the mood light on the bench and in the locker room.
He’s particularly adept at the latter, reigning, as he does, as the Jazz’s resident king of one-liners.
Asked if he makes it a point to bring levity to the team, he requests the word’s language of origin. Queried as to what the Jazz’s suddenly surging defense can yet improve, he fires back, “I have to really think on this one — we’re really good.” Following a stretch of successful 3-point shooting, he’s asked if he’s worked to speed up the release on his shooting motion. “Does it look fast?” he asks back. Told that, indeed it does, the self-proclaimed “Minivan” replies, “It’s probably the only thing that’s fast in my life.”
When one reporter had criticized Niang and the second unit on Twitter following a particularly rough stretch, then days later inquired about a streak of four consecutive 40-plus-point outings by the non-starters, Niang gave him a purposeful look and responded (voice dripping with sarcasm), “The bench has been great, hasn’t it?”
While there was a hint of venom in that one, Niang is actually well-known for being particularly jovial.
“His personality is something that a team can thrive on,” Snyder said.
Now, the Jazz are eager to once again thrive on his 3-pointers dropping through that regulation-sized rim.
JAZZ VS. KINGS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.n.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 28-13; Kings 15-26
Last meeting • Kings, 102-101 (Nov. 1)
About the Jazz • Utah’s 10-game winning streak came to an end Thursday night in New Orleans, but the team has still won 15 of its past 17. … Donovan Mitchell tied his career-high by scoring 46 points in the loss. … The game was the Jazz’s first overtime contest of the season, but the team shot just 3 for 14 in the extra session.
About the Kings • In Sacramento’s games played in 2020, De’Aaron Fox has averaged 24.1 points, 8.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.0 steals, while shooting 50.4% from the field. … The Kings won the teams’ last matchup on a last-second putback when the Jazz failed to box out. … Sacramento has dropped three straight games.