I’ll be honest. When the Philadelphia 76ers signed Georges Niang back in early August, I didn’t give it a ton of thought. I saw he shot 40 percent from behind the arc, figured he had to be an upgrade over the twilight years of Mike Scott, and returned to one of my handful of group chats speculating over the fate of Ben Simmons. I mean, if a perennial playoff team like the Utah Jazz was willing to let him walk for a little over $3 million per year, we couldn’t get too excited, right?
Wrong. Niang had his best game of the season in Monday night’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers, recording his first-career 20-5-5 game with a season-high 21 points (7-of-16 from the floor, 4-of-5 from the foul line), along with five rebounds and five assists. Now, these are the thoughts going through my head:
Really fun win tonight. I've become convinced the Sixers win the title last year if they had Georges Niang in the Mike Scott role.— Philly Fast Break (@PhillyFastBreak) November 2, 2021
So it hurts even worse when Doc Rivers says this postgame:
“Daryl [Morey] will tell you, we played [the Jazz] right before the All-Star break. And I called Daryl, going on vacation or wherever I was going for that one day of my All-Star break, and I say, ‘Georges Niang is available. We’ve got to get this guy.’ Obviously we tried, we just didn’t get him. So he was on our targets literally from midseason last year.”
Oh, what could have been. But Georges Niang is here now, and he’s spectacular. Yes, as expected, he’s shooting the ball incredibly well from the outside (currently 43.2 percent on 5.3 three-point attempts per game). On its own, that ability would be extremely helpful for this Sixers team. But it’s all the other areas of his game where Niang has greatly exceeded expectations and made fans sit up and take notice.
Niang played somewhat of a point forward role in college at Iowa State, where he averaged 3.1 assists per game across his four-year collegiate career. We didn’t really see that area of his game across five seasons with Indiana and Utah, as he never averaged even so much as one assist per game. Through seven regular season games with the Sixers, though, Georges is dishing out 1.9 dimes per night, looking like a playmaking wing in spoon-feeding a bucket like this to Paul Reed:
Niang’s ability to attack off the dribble has even surprised Rivers, as the head coach said following the win Monday:
“Yeah, his dribble attacks have surprised me. He has this ability to pry his body downhill and make shots. And his passing in the paint. I didn’t see that in Utah. (Laughs.) But he does it. But he does come from a great program. I love getting guys from great programs and Utah, the way they play, it’s nice to have guys from programs like that.”
Teammate Seth Curry also had plaudits for Niang’s playmaking ability last night:
“First of all, [Niang] knocks down shots, so he’s a threat out there offensively. You’ve got to guard him, first and foremost. And he’s an underrated playmaker — he puts the ball on the floor, making the right decisions, whether it’s score or pass. He’s just a smart player offensively, reading the defense, mixing in good screens, slips. He’s an easy guy to play with. I try to be the same way; I try to pride myself on playing smart and being an easy guy to play with. He showed that tonight, just helping everybody out there on the floor, especially the young guys on that second unit. He just gave us big minutes.”
It’s not just setting up teammates, though, as Niang has flashed the ability to score off the dribble himself. Look at him attacking a late closeout from Anfernee Simons and converting a huge and-one in last night’s fourth quarter:
Georges Niang going nuts tonight— Slightly Biased (@BiasedSlightly) November 2, 2021
Even when he doesn’t get all the way to the rim, Niang has a nice touch in the paint, as he demonstrated last week in the loss to New York:
Still not convinced? Recall this baseline spin move for the hoop and the harm against Oklahoma City. Three defenders? Sorry, Thunder, that’s not nearly enough to stop Georges Niang:
Georges spoke last night about the opportunity he’s had to expand his game since arriving in Philadelphia:
“Obviously our coaching staff and Doc have given me the opportunity to grow and show what I actually can do — and not really give me any limitations. So it’s been great — it’s only been a couple games — but to continue to grow here, especially expanding my game and helping the team win. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve taken out of this. With the limitations that I do have, it still stays within team basketball and helps us win.”
Given how well he’s been playing, it’s only right that Niang continued in the proud tradition of Carl Landry and received MVP chants last night as a backup big man, something he joked about after the game:
“Joel told me to never let that happen again. The fans here have been great and have welcomed me with open arms, so I’m super thankful.”
Bottom line: Niang has brought more to the table than even the most ardent Sixers optimists might have hoped coming into the season, and has played a pivotal role in Philadelphia’s strong 5-2 start to the season. So while Rivers might occasionally frustrate you over his rotations or aversion to using a challenge, you can thank him for bringing Georges Niang into our lives. Here was Niang postgame on Doc Rivers:
“Well, I appreciate him. The reason I’m here is because of him. I had a phone call with him over free agency, which was huge for me deciding to come here. But I try to play the right way; I know my limitations, I know myself.”
Niang knows himself, and Sixers fans are getting to know him, and loving every minute of it.