This is crazy. I know it is. But bear with me.
Georges Niang has a chance to be the 4 of the future for the Utah Jazz. That is, assuming the Jazz don’t sign Tobias Harris or another free agent of his ilk this summer.
Yes, Niang’s only logged 87 minutes with Utah. And no, that’s nowhere near enough to facilitate a leap like this. But when you look at where NBA basketball is going, in combination with Niang’s size and skill, it’s not that crazy.
Again, we need to be operating under the assumption that Utah strikes out in free agency over the next couple summers. But even if it doesn’t, Niang could be in line for a much bigger role over the life of his contract.
He’s signed through the 2020-21 season, when he’ll be making just $1.8 million. Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder are both set to come off the books no later than 2019-20. And when the Jazz signed Joe Ingles in 2014, no one expected him to eventually become the team’s starting 3. He’s a perfect example of what can happen to a player in Utah’s organization, if he’s big, skilled and willing to work.
Niang checks all three of those boxes.
At 6’8” and 230 pounds, Niang has the size of a traditional 4, with the game of a modern one. He can shoot (42.1 percent on all his three-point attempts in the NBA and G-League), pass (4.2 assists per 36 minutes of NBA and G-League time) and even defend a little bit (1.1 steals per 36 minutes).
It’s that last area where he’ll probably need the most work going forward. But again, Ingles is the template. If you’re 6’8” and know how to get yourself to the right spots a little ahead of time on a given possession, lack of top-flight quickness isn’t a killer. And the Jazz coaching staff can teach Niang how to do that.
In fact (and probably not surprisingly), it appears they’re already doing that. Utah is allowing 104.6 points per 100 possessions when Niang is on the floor, which ranks in the 78th percentile league-wide, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Of course, all the numbers in this piece need to be read in appropriate context. Niang has only logged 55 minutes this season. And plenty of those have come against backups. But he’s dominating in those minutes, probably even more than you’d expect from an eventual rotation player.
Right now, Niang ranks first on the Jazz in points per 36 minutes (24.2), three-point percentage (57.1), Offensive Box Plus-Minus (6.7) and True Shooting Percentage (.833). He’s second only to Rudy Gobert in overall Box Plus-Minus (6.8) and Win Shares per 48 Minutes (.267).
All of those numbers are bound to regress (some severely), but it’s becoming more clear every game that this guy belongs. And we’re just at the start of his development curve.
With most teams, we could probably say Niang’s already hit his ceiling. This is his age-25 season, and he’s spent a decent chunk of the last two years toiling away in the G-League.
But Ingles’ age-27 season was his first with the Jazz. And his Box Plus-Minus went up in each of his four full seasons, peaking at the 3.1 that ranked 30th in the NBA in 2017-18.
Getting that kind of production out of a diamond in the rough again, especially so soon after the first one, seems unlikely. The path is visible, though. And again, early returns are good.
The samples on the following numbers are very small, but still interesting.
- When Gobert and Niang are both on the floor, Utah is scoring 127.3 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile).
- When Gobert is on the floor and Niang is off, Utah is scoring 113.5 points per 100 possessions (73rd percentile).
- Ingles and Niang both on the floor: 115.8 points per 100 possessions (82nd percentile)
- Ingles on and Niang off: 112.7 points per 100 possessions (65th percentile)
Now again, this probably bears repeating. The sample sizes on these numbers are still extremely volatile. One big swing either way could really change things, but there are far more promising signs than red flags with Niang.
If Utah can develop him the way it did Ingles, striking out in free agency may not be the end of the world.