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Georges Niang is backup forward upgrade Sixers have been seeking

The Minivan is proving to be a solid role player early in his Sixers tenure.

Detroit Pistons v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

It seems like yesterday that the Sixers were primed for a huge postseason run, capturing the first seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 20 years. It was one of the best iterations we’ve seen of the Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid era Sixers, with coveted shooters in Seth Curry and Danny Green joining the roster.

While the 2020-21 Sixers were a solid team, they weren’t flawless. They had a few holes in their roster, some of them being bigger than others. While the Sixers had a quality defensive big in Dwight Howard, he wasn’t a shooter (on most nights at least). They didn’t have a stretch big outside of Mike Scott, who was undersized at his position and couldn’t really shoot. Sure, he hit 34.2 percent of his threes, two percentage points below league average, but defenses really didn’t respect him at moments.

Fast forward one disappointing playoff run later, and we’ve gotten a revamped bench unit. A trade that wasn’t actually a trade occurred with the Sixers and Lakers swapping Howard for Andre Drummond, and Georges Niang would later join the Sixers via free agency.

Niang was labeled as a quality role player on a great Utah Jazz team. When I first heard news that the Sixers signed him, I didn’t have much of a reaction because I simply didn’t know much about him, outside of the fact that he’s an above-average shooter. The deal Niang and the Sixers agreed on — $6.7 million over 2 years — seemed more than fair given his shooting talents.

After five games I can confidently say I know much more about Niang, and I’m very excited that he’s on the Sixers. Unlike some players that come from other teams to Philly, his shooting came as advertised. Arguably even better than advertised, as he’s currently shooting a scorching 54.5 percent from three in five games.

Niang’s perimeter shooting doesn’t do him justice in terms of how efficient he’s been offensively. Through five games he has a true shooting percentage of 73.3, which currently ranks seventh in the entire NBA. For perspective, he’s actually ranked ahead of Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen, who is shooting a ridiculous 75 percent from the field.

Yes, the sample size is still very small and there’s a long season on the horizon. But simply watching Niang confirms that he’s been the upgrade the Sixers have been seeking for over two years as a backup stretch four.

One of the areas I’ve been most impressed with Niang is his basketball IQ. Watching him play basketball is a very satisfying experience as he almost always makes the right read or pass, and rarely forces a shot. He knows his role and plays within it. He even joked to the media that his job was to simply shoot open shots and to space the floor for Embiid.

One of the most impressive skills that he’s showcased in limited time is his playmaking. While he’s labeled as an excellent stand-still shooter, there seems to be more to his game than advertised. Over the past handful of preseason and regular season games we’ve seen him showcase the ability to put the ball on the floor to get to the rim or create for others.

Niang hasn’t had much of a chance to showcase this ability, as he really didn’t play much with the Indiana Pacers and the Utah Jazz have an abundance of capable creators.

Niang has played pretty solid defense so far, too. He won’t ever be a lockdown defender, but that’s not at all what the Sixers have brought him in for. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with high basketball IQ and knowing where to be at the right time.

The Sixers have needed a Niang for over two seasons now. Scott fizzled out quickly on his two-year, mid-level exception contract, and it led to some serious frustration from fans. It’s unclear if Simmons will ever take the court as a Sixer again, but having Niang as an option to start or come off the bench will be massive in comparison to Scott.

Even if Simmons never returns this signing should age well with time. At the bare minimum, the Sixers have an above-average shooting forward with a quick release. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if Niang continues to grow and flourish with the Sixers. He is already 28 years old, but there is definitely some untapped potential in him that we’ve already seen early on this season with his playmaking. I could see things unfolding similarly to how Seth Curry has grown as a Sixer in a year and a half.

It’s two years overdue, but let’s be thankful the Sixers finally have a Georges Niang-type of player.