Georges Niang makes his case for a Jazz roster spot during summer league

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Memphis Grizzlies Markel Crawford. knocks the ball out of the hands of Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang (31), in Utah Jazz summer league action between Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

If someone mentions Georges Niang to Naz Mitrou-Long, the Utah Jazz shooting guard is going to mention one thing about his best friend: “Tell him to get the guns out.”

And, if that person relays the message, Niang will smile, then dissolve into laughter and flex his muscles.

It’s a homage to how hard Niang has worked to add muscle and lean out what was once a soft and flabby frame. As the Utah Jazz progress entering Thursday’s final day of summer league at Vivint Smart Home Arena before heading to Las Vegas, Niang has looked like a different player.

Where he was once doughy, he’s now smaller. He’s never going to be the most athletic person — but now he’s faster and more sure of himself in the NBA. As he hits restricted free agency, he knows he belongs more than ever before.

“I even have some abs now,” Niang joked. “Naz is my best friend, so he’s seen what I’ve gone through and how hard that I’ve worked. I’m feeling comfortable after a year in the system. We live together, so he knows that I’ve come a long way, so he knows that I feel the need to show off every once in awhile.”

After spending most of last season with the Jazz on a two-way contract, Niang can be a shining example on what general manager Dennis Lindsey and team executive Bart Taylor envision for the Salt Lake City Stars.

Niang played with the Stars and practiced with the Jazz for much of last season. He developed his game with the Jazz coaching staff. Even when he wasn’t getting live reps in practices, he soaked in the system by osmosis. And, of course, he put a lot of time and effort into his body.

The results have been on display during the Jazz summer league this week, during which Niang has clearly been Utah’s best player. He scored 17 points in Monday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs. On Tuesday, he scored 18 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out four assists in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Georges unlocks a lot of things for our offense,” Utah summer league head coach Mike Wells said. “He’s someone who can handle the ball in transition. He’s really skilled. He can trail the break, pull up and hit a three. He can face up, or he can work in the post. He’s someone who can do a lot of things, and he’s comfortable in the system.”

Niang is well-versed enough in the Jazz system that he is able to play by feel rather than have to think things through, and the results have shown with the ability to grab a rebound and start the Jazz out in transition.

His shining moment Tuesday came in such a manner, taking a pass on the break and dunking on Memphis rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. Niang even looked at Jackson and smiled once he hit the floor. It was a play Niang wouldn’t have been able to make a year ago.

“Those guys are high lottery picks, so you want to go out there and show what you want to do and show what you can do,” Niang said. “Obviously, Jaren Jackson is a heck of a player and you have to bring it every night. You never know who you’re going to play, but it’s obviously going to be someone good.”

Niang’s status with the Jazz is tenuous. The Jazz have tendered Niang a qualifying offer, meaning they have the ability to match any offer sheet Niang may get from another team. But that doesn’t mean the Jazz will automatically bring him back.

But that’s something Niang isn’t worrying about. He simply wants to put his best foot forward and play as well as he can during summer league. And thus far, that’s exactly what the former Iowa State star is accomplishing.

“I have to control what I can control,” Niang said. “I don’t really think about it. When you end up thinking about it, you end up driving yourself crazy. I just want to move forward and leave the rest to the creator above.”