When Georges Niang was drafted 50th overall by the Indiana Pacers in June's NBA draft, more than a few people were surprised at the selection. Many experts did not have Niang on their draft boards at all. Many wrote him off as someone who would get a shot in summer league and would have to fight tooth and nail to make an NBA roster in the fall. All of that became moot when Niang signed a three year contract worth $2.6 million over three years.
What the average fan often doesn't know is that contracts for second round picks do not have to be guaranteed. Players who are drafted in the last half of the draft frequently are required to make the team in training camp to realize their NBA dream. Niang again made that point moot because of his play in the NBA's Summer League and the fact that the first year of his contract is fully guaranteed. This means that you will see Georges Niang on an NBA team when the regular season starts in late October.
The second year of his contract is only partially guaranteed and the third year is not guaranteed at all. Niang will have to earn those two years and beyond with his play this upcoming season. Taking a look at how Niang's game can intertwine with the Pacers system can reveal where Georges will be successful and where he will struggle.
Georges has stated that in talks with Indiana's coaching staff and management they have discussed using him ways that are very similar to how he dominated at Iowa State as a playmaking four. They appreciate his basketball IQ, his floor stretching three point shooting and his ability to make plays both for himself and for others on offense. They believe these assets will definitely outweigh his lack of athleticism. Let's dissect how Niang will fit on Indy's squad in a little more depth.
The Pacers have a ton of play making guards on their roster. They acquired Jeff Teague in the off season from Atlanta to go along with Monta Ellis and Paul George. To compliment that trio they boast Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles. That amounts to a ton of offensive talent in the back court on one team and with ball screens becoming ever more prominent in NBA offenses, it is easy to conclude that Niang will be used a lot as a screener.
Now there are different types of screeners in the NBA. There are those whose entire game revolves around screening and rolling to the rim for lobs. Think of the DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler and Steven Adams types. That is not and will never be Georges Niang. The other types of screeners are those who can roll or pop and make plays after receiving the ball in those positions. These types of players vary as well. Dirk Nowtizki is deadly with his jumpshot, so among many other skills he made a stellar career out of canning open threes off of pick and rolls and making plays from similar positions using the threat of a jumper. Draymond Green isn't as fire from beyond the arc, but is great at seeing the floor in five on four or four on three situations out of pick and rolls.
Niang figures to be a combination of the two. He can stroke better than Green, but not as well as Dirk. Georges can make plays for others when given an advantage more so than Dirk, but probably not to the level that Green is. The first person Niang mentioned when asked about who he models his game after is Boris Diaw (1:47). That is a great comparison. They are both excellent passers and are incredibly crafty which creates problems for bigs and smalls alike while making up for their relative lack of athleticism. Niang is a superior, and a more willing, gunner than Boris and with today's emphasis on threes in the NBA that is a tremendous asset.
Georges will not see the same number of isolations that he did his final couple years at Iowa State. The only reason I could see the Pacers letting him go to work on his own is if a small guard gets switched onto him in the post. He will be used primarily as a screener and someone who Indiana can stick in the corner or on the opposite wing to stretch the defense and knock down threes.
With the Pacers addition of Al Jefferson, it will make Niang's three point stroke that much more important because Professor Al, PhD. never strays far from the paint, which means his man will be in there to clog it up. If Niang's man doesn't have to close out to him, there will be two defenders manning the paint and it will make it very difficult for Indiana's back court to be effective.
Niang will need to knock down the open threes that he is gifted from plays made by Indiana's veterans. If NBA defenses do not have to respect him from the three point line, it will severely limit his driving ability and will kill most of his value on any NBA roster. If Georges can keep up the shooting he showed in his last two years at Iowa State he could turn out to be an incredible pick for the Pacers.
Forcing people to respect his jump shot unleashes Niang's unique pump and rumble game. As defenders close out on him, Niang has shown the ability to get by mostly anyone and from those positions he can be lethal. His passing ability will be incredibly valuable as he can find an open lob or kick for three in a split second if someone rotates to help on him. His finishing ability off the dribble will be questioned and tested because of his athleticism, but he shot around 60% from two last year in the uber talented Big 12. Fans should be confident that this can translate into at least average finishing in the NBA. He's been dealing with bigger, more athletic people guarding him his entire life, finishing in the NBA won't be anything new to Niang.
If opposing teams are being torn up by George, Teague, or Ellis, and start to trap any of them off of pick and rolls, Niang will come in handy. The Pacers can have Niang set a ball screen and when the trap comes on the guard, they can flip it to Niang much like Stephen Curry defers to Draymond for a four on three situation when he gets trapped. Niang will thrive with a man advantage. He will torch defenses kicking out for threes, throwing lobs, or taking it to the rim.
If teams defend the Pacers' pick and rolls by dropping their big defender off the screener to corral the ball handler, Niang can pop to the three point line opposite of the ballhandler to get wide open looks for three. These types of offensive sequences play to Niang's strengths will be gold for him. Even if he is rolling on the pick and roll and receives a pocket pass in the lane with a big coming over to eliminate, Niang will take his time and make the right play whether that means finishing or keeping the offense moving with a pass.
Georges has the ability to become top level in the NBA at these skills. The faster he can become good at this situations will determine the projection for his NBA career. If he becomes a master of those plays, he can focus on expanding other parts of his game a little bit.
Niang has never been a great defender. He struggled mightily this past year, as the entire Cyclone team did in trying to stop people. His main goal on this end of the floor is simply to become an average NBA defender. He doesn't need to be great or even good because his offensive repertoire will provide for the team. It is crucial this year for Niang to be able to reach an average defensive level. The Pacers cannot afford to play Niang if he is getting shredded on defense and their bench rotations are taking hits every time he is on the floor. Georges needs to prove he is worthy of the League on this end.
The positives are that Niang should be able to matchup fairly well with bigger wings. It seems he would be able to guard guys like Patrick Patterson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Solomon Hill. The huge lingering question will be if Niang will be able to hold up against Eastern Conferences forwards like Marcus Morris, Tristan Thompson, and Serge Ibaka. Can Georges withstand Morris's brute force in the post? Can he keep Thompson off the boards? Can he handle a pick and roll with Ibaka as the screener and get back to close him out on a pop for three? His playing time will be determined by whether he can keep his head above water with these guys like an average player at his position could.
Early in the season teams are going to test whether they can take advantage of Niang in the pick and roll. Teams will runs all types of ball screens with their four men with Georges on the floor defending the screener. He needs to be able to slow down the whizzes of the NBA coming off ball screens. Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and the like cannot be getting bucket after bucket when Niang is defending ball screens. Georges has to be able to recover to his guy after helping on the screen or rotate effectively out of the sequence.
Kevin Love didn't play as much for the Cavs in the playoffs because teams were killing him by involving him in pick and rolls. Love is a beast on the offensive end, so he is definitely still deserving of minutes. Georges will not be a need-him-in-the-game on offense guy right away, so if he is brutal on defense he won't get consistent minutes. His first year needs to about proving his worth defensively.
Niang cannot recover from his defensive mistakes with his athletic ability, so to be an effectively defensive player it's going to take a ton of hard work and anticipation on his part. Every move or rotation that he can see coming even a half step ahead will give him the advantage he needs to get to the right spot to make the play. Typically defense takes a while for NBA rookies to get a handle on, but hopefully Niang's basketball IQ will give him a head start.
Anyway you go about it, Cyclone fans will be jazzed up to see Niang compete in the League this year and I know many will be dialed in to a bunch more Pacers games than last season to see if the Iowa State all time great can translate his game to the next level and unlock his NBA potential.