SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the grind of a grueling 82-game season and first-round playoff series is over, Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang won’t be hard to find — at least momentarily.
“Off the court, I think I’m just gonna relax, man,” Niang said. “You can find me up in Park City at the St. Regis looking over at the mountains. That’s where I’ll be.”
Then, once the self-reflection wears off, the former Iowa State product will be back in the lab. Guaranteeing the second year on Niang’s contract is one of the difficult decisions that the Jazz brass is faced with, but he did everything in his power to prove his case.
Not only did Niang appear in a career-best 59 games, he also averaged 4.0 points and 1.5 rebounds while also working his way into Jazz coach Quin Snyder’s rotation throughout the postseason series versus Houston, where he also averaged 4.4 points — including an eight-point, seven-rebound performance in 17 minutes of Game 3.
That passion and unselfishness didn’t go unnoticed among his teammates.
“You’ve got guys like Georges Niang going crazy at the end of the bench for a whole month and then coming in in the playoffs and attacking and being the same killer since I’ve known him in high school,” said Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. “So, it goes from top to bottom. We have a bunch of guys who are unselfish, wanting to play and if I had to pitch it’s like we want to win.”
Niang agreed to one of the Jazz’s final roster spots last July, where he signed a three-year, $5 million deal with the second and third years non-guaranteed. Instead of agreeing to play international basketball, he bet on himself after his stellar play in the NBA Summer League.
“He had some great offers overseas, people pulling here and there, saying he should’ve done this and that and ultimately if you believe in yourself and you’re honest and real with yourself, then you can make it happen,” said Jazz two-way guard Naz Mitrou-Long, also Niang’s former Iowa State teammate. “He gave himself realistic goals and followed up with the work and that’s just all it was.”
Even with that success during his third year in the league, Niang is far from satisfied. He is set to turn 26 on June 17 and wants to see his game grow from a ball-handling standpoint, defensively, shooting and becoming stronger and faster. In the Jazz’s regular-season finale against the Clippers, Niang went off for a career-high 24 points on April 20, so he’s showed flashes of his potential.
“From a basketball standpoint, obviously I want to continue to work on my body and become the Greek god that I know I can be,” Niang said jokingly during exit interviews.
But in all seriousness, the playoff experience was certainly a confidence booster that can be used as a springboard for bigger and better opportunities moving forward. Snyder distinguished his role from the beginning of the 2018-19 season as always being ready to get in there and make shots, defend his position and help move the ball — or even instilling confidence into his teammates from the sidelines.
“I thought it was a really good year. I came from not being on an NBA roster to being on an NBA roster to contributing and playing in the playoffs, so I think there’s a lot of things to be proud of, but I don’t want that to be the highlight of my career,” Niang told the Deseret News following Utah’s Game 5 loss in Houston. “I want to continue to grow and get better and achieve new things and win some more.”
Niang will also host his third annual golf outing, which is set for Monday, July 29, in Ames, Iowa, where proceeds will benefit the YSS Adolescent Residential Addiction Treatment program. Even deeper than basketball, he hopes his NBA success can be a success for kids who may not be the most athletically gifted, but truly know how to play the game at a high level.1 comment on this story
“I’m confident in myself, but I think for the young kids it just goes to show that you don’t need to jump the highest, you don’t need to run the fastest,” Niang said. “Your brain is the most powerful tool in your whole body, so if you can continue to enhance that and really just find yourself and figure out who you are and what you do good, I feel like some guys get lost in the sauce of trying to be something that they’re not and I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not good at.”