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Georges Niang continues to be Sixers’ X-Factor off the bench

It has been a smooth ride for the Minivan this season.

Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Since signing with the Philadelphia 76ers in August 2021, Georges Niang has cemented himself as a vital member of the Sixers’ second unit. By the end of last season, Niang effectively became the team’s sixth man and part of the team’s closing five, which spoke both to how well Niang was playing and the team’s depth issues.

This year, Niang is playing even better, averaging a career-high 9.7 points per game in fewer minutes than last season (20.0 mpg versus 22.8 in 2021-22), while shooting 42.3 percent from three on a career-high 5.6 attempts per game.

In Philadelphia’s 119-112 Christmas Day win, Niang stepped up again, pouring in 16 points off the bench. He finished 6-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-9 from behind the arc, and finished a game-best plus-17.

Of course, he got there in a particular Georges Niang fashion, missing five of his first six attempts from distance, before making his final three. All four of his makes came in the fourth quarter. Doc Rivers spoke to reporters in New York after the game upon Niang’s gunslinger mentality.

“Well, we were laughing. … I said, ‘Georges, are you going to make a freaking shot tonight, or are we just on vacation today?’ And he said, ‘You just watch,’ and that’s when he started pointing at me and he made his shots. It was thrilling for me, too, to be honest, but that was great. That was just a great response by Georges.”

Niang himself gave his recollection of that conversation:

“I think he said, ‘Are you going to make a shot today?’ or something along those lines. But we have a good, friendly banter, going back and forth. I think that motivates me to keep digging deeper and being better. So that was just my raw emotions, excitement. … That was a big shot for me, that was a big shot for the team, and I was excited.”

In particular, that fourth-quarter surge was made possible by the two-man game between Niang and James Harden. Three of Georges’ four threes came via assist from The Beard. Niang gave his thoughts on what was working between the two:

“I don’t know why they were playing in a drop coverage. I probably haven’t seen that since college, maybe. But they were putting two on James, and that’s where we have that two-man game that really flourishes. And James found me. James does an incredible job of hitting you on the hands and making those passes. My job is to shoot the ball, and I wasn’t going to stop doing that.”

Harden shared similar thoughts on how the pair got rolling:

“We found something. We found something we liked and just tried to get the best available shots. I think Georges had a couple of easy looks and rushed them. I told him, ‘Just take your time.’ He made one, made two, and that opened up the game for us right here...Georges is probably one of our better shooters. So the more we can get him the ball and the more we can spread that floor out and get him going, that makes everybody’s jobs a lot easier. Obviously that’s coaching, and that’s part of my job as well on the floor.”

Certainly, Niang is a player that has his limitations. But his quick trigger and elite perimeter shooting fills a much-needed role for the Sixers team. And even when Georges is going through a bit of a cold spell, he’s not ever going to hesitate to hoist the next shot:

“Well, I’ll tell you this: If I were to doubt myself and stop shooting, I could find myself on the bench. So you tell me: Would you take the alternative? I’m going to keep shooting. Obviously I opened up my shot a little bit by being able to drive in there. But guys on this team are great, whether it’s Tyrese, De’Anthony, Joel, Tobias, James — telling me to keep shooting, and that they were going to fall. I think we all know the work that we put in to be successful. I don’t see myself stopping shooting anytime soon.”

Undoubtedly, Niang will keep shooting and Sixers fans will keep loving the contributions their team is getting from the Minivan.

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