It was fun being out there. I was a little nervous at first, but once your nerves settle down, it’s just playing basketball, so it was fun. —Jazz forward Erik McCree
SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles couldn’t help but give Georges Niang a hard time.
With 5:37 remaining and the Utah Jazz ahead of the Detroit Pistons by 38 points Tuesday night at Vivint Arena, Niang entered the game and proceeded to miss a 3-pointer, his first-ever shot attempt in a Jazz uniform, which drew some ribbing from Mitchell and Ingles afterward.
The former Iowa State star, who joined Utah on a two-way contract in January, stayed aggressive in the final minutes though and wound up making his next two attempts, both of which came near the basket, thanks to strong drives.
The Jazz’s convincing 110-79 victory wound up allowing both Niang and Utah’s other two-way player, Erik McCree, to log their season-high in minutes, as McCree entered the contest with 4:10 remaining.
McCree didn’t score but grabbed a rebound and came up with a steal.
“That was good,” Niang said. “It was good to get out there in the flow of the game and get my legs up under me. It felt good to get out there, especially with these guys. They do a good job of keeping us prepared.”
Said McCree: “It was fun being out there. I was a little nervous at first, but once your nerves settle down, it’s just playing basketball, so it was fun.”
In a sense, Tuesday night served as a reward for the duo, who, as two-way players, split time between the Jazz and the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars but had only logged a combined six minutes with the big club (McCree was signed in late December) entering Tuesday.
With the Stars, Niang is averaging 22 points over 15 contests while McCree is just behind him at 18.9 points in 22 contests.
“I think you’ve just got to take every opportunity you get on the court, whether that’s in the G League or in practice or working out, just to work on your craft, better yourself day in and day out and just constantly act like your number’s going to get called at any time so you don’t have to get ready,” Niang said. “You’re just always staying ready.”
Chuckling as he described life in the G League as “tiring,” McCree expressed gratitude for the position he’s in, but said having stints with the Jazz serves as motivation to keep getting better.
“It definitely makes you appreciate being up here,” he said. “It’s tough, but it’s definitely worth it coming back here.”
Mitchell, who frequents Stars games at the Lifetime Activities Center on the campus of Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, said Niang and McCree, along with 10-day (and former two-way) contract player Naz Mitrou-Long and fellow draftee Tony Bradley, bring an energy the Jazz need despite spending a good deal of time with Salt Lake City.
“They fit right in perfectly,” Mitchell said. “The fact that they got in just proud of them to see them doing their thing in the G League game and now here. Gotta keep working.”