At long last, our player profile series comes to an end. It's only fitting that we end with the face of Iowa State basketball, Georges Niang.
Season At A Glance
With the departures of Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, the '14-'15 Cyclones would only go as far as Georges Niang would take them (and boy did that ever prove to be the case). A pre-season all-Big 12 and all-American pick, Niang met the lofty expectations bestowed upon him.
Now, it's noteworthy that I use the word met there. Niang didn't disappoint, nor did he exceed what anyone expected of him. He simply performed exactly to what we all expected, which was oddly underwhelming.
When the dust settled, Niang was a first team all-Big 12 selection and was named a third team all-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). He truly had a great year, but for whatever reason, it never quite seemed like enough.
The fact is, this narrative didn't simply develop after Iowa State's loss to UAB in the NCAA Tournament, but started to surface much earlier in the year. Throughout the season, Niang saw more criticism thrown his way than any other player on the Cyclone roster combined.
In somewhat of a statistical anomaly, Niang scored exactly 10 points in each of Iowa State's first four losses this year and struggled mightily in those contests. As a whole, you could argue that Niang's play was largely responsible for just about all of Iowa State's nine losses this year and this led to many questioning his ability, leadership and basketball IQ.
In those losses, Niang shot 35.7% from the floor, 32.5% from deep, turned it over nearly 3.5 times per game and scored just 13 points per outing. Now, compare those figures to Niang's season stats for reference:
*Career highs bolded
Quite the year for Niang. He was unguardable at times given his ability to score off the bounce, in the post or from outside and showed that he could be competent on the glass. Niang ranked in the top 20 in the Big 12 in scoring, rebounding, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage (and would have qualified in free throws if he attempted a few more).
And now the advanced numbers:
(For definitions, follow this link)
I think these numbers tell a better story about Niang's junior year. One would think that with both Ejim and Kane no longer in picture, Niang's usage rate would have seen a dramatic increase, but this past season's team actually showed remarkable balance with five players averaging double figures in scoring (and nearly six as Dustin Hogue scored 9.3 points a night). As a result Niang's usage rate actually decreased from his sophomore year when Iowa State's offensive attack largely centered around only three consistent scorers.
Other numbers worth nothing are Niang's 3-Point Attempt Rate, which at 28.3% was actually the lowest of his career. Coincidentally, the 40% Niang shot from outside was a career-best and a 7.3% increase from the 32.7% he posted from deep during his sophomore year. Niang was also much better about getting to the line as a junior. Free Throw Attempt Rate measures the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt and that number jumped 8.6% from his sophomore year. Finally, Niang was a markedly better rebounder as a junior and it's easy to draw a parallel between his improved numbers on the glass and the conditioning work he put in last summer. Niang's defensive rebounding percentage was the best of his career and his total rebounding percentage jumped by nearly 2% from his sophomore season.
Now, there was a black mark on Niang's ledger and it came in the form of turnovers. Niang coughed it up 2.7 times per game and turned it over nearly 3% more than he did as a sophomore. The turnovers are particularly alarming because as was already pointed out, Niang actually had the ball in his hands less this season compared to his sophomore year. But this brings me to Good Niang vs. Bad Niang.
I have to give full credit to ClonesJer for this, but the WRNL staff got together earlier this year to watch the road game at Texas Tech and after a series of particularly awful gaffes from Niang, Jer noted (and I'm paraphrasing here) that nobody quite goes to shit like Georges Niang. For all of the great things Niang does on the basketball floor, he has the unique ability of being able to go full stupid on occasion.
But you know what, you live with "Bad Niang" because regardless of how miserable Niang looks from time to time, he's a star and as stars are wont to do, Niang is always capable of making something great happen. It's hard to recall another Iowa State player in recent memory that has scored as many clutch baskets as Niang has, and he still has another year to go. There's a reason he's also earned the nickname, "The Closer".
Summer School Curriculum
Last summer, Niang devoted every waking moment to shedding body fat and improving his conditioning. It's fair to ask if he might have dropped too much weight as there were times early in the year where it looked as if he wasn't able to compete inside. A comfortable playing weight for Niang is probably somewhere in the 230-235 pound range, which is where he likely finished the year.
Assuming Niang's weight doesn't balloon back up to the 250-pound range this summer, this off season is all about earning a paycheck. Niang will be invited to every camp out there these next few months and will have the chance to showcase his ability in front of NBA scouts.
After three years, the book is out on Niang and by now, his strengths and weaknesses are known inside and out. It's doubtful that Niang is going to acquire some new skill between now and November, so from this point going forward, it's all about showing he belongs on an NBA roster.
Statistically, Niang will go down as an all-time great both at Iowa State and in the Big 12 conference.
Niang is already 15th all-time on Iowa State's career scoring list and with another 500-point season, he'll become just the third Cyclone ever to score 2,000 points in his career. Should Niang average about 20 points per game and play at least 35 games, he'll also pass Barry Stevens as the #2 scorer in Cyclone history.
As for other historical marks, Niang will move into the top 10 among Iowa State's career assist leaders at some point this year (passing Fred Hoiberg on the way). Niang should also finish his career among the top five in field goals made as well as 3-pointers made. Niang also sits only 32 games behind Melvin Ejim for most career games (135) in a Cyclone uniform.
Most importantly, if all goes according to plan, Niang will become the first Cyclone ever to play in four NCAA Tournaments (Naz Long will be included on this list as well as he played two minutes against Notre Dame as a freshman).
Barring some type of unforeseen disaster, #31 will hang in the rafters of Hilton Coliseum some day and it will be well deserved. Georges Niang is and will be one of the greatest Cyclones of all time, both for his contributions on the floor and his unmatchable personality.
Statistically, Niang's legacy is in tact. The only thing that needs to be added to the resume is a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Should he and Iowa State accomplish that, then it will be fair to start asking if he just might be the greatest Cyclone ever.