Even though Thabo Sefolosha was available for the Utah Jazz on Sunday, Georges Niang continued to log minutes in his place. Is this a trend we can expect moving forward?
There were certainly high expectations for the Utah Jazz coming into the 2018-19 season, and considering that they have a 4-2 record and are riding a three-game winning streak, I’d say they’re off to a great start to reach their illustrious goals.
However, unfortunately at times the Jazz starters haven’t quite been up to par with the Utah bench. The reserves have had to bail the starting group out of some poor sequences and have helped take leads or keep the Jazz on top. While it’s good to see the Jazz boast such exceptional depth, it would also be reassuring to see the starters get going in full force as well.
But for now, I won’t dwell on some of the inconsistencies of the starters. Instead, I’m going to focus on one bench player who has been a surprising impact player thus far for the Jazz and a big contributor in the second unit. The man I’m speaking of is none other than Iowa State product Georges Niang.
Niang was a late addition to the Jazz roster last year as a two-way player who mainly played in the G-League with the Salt Lake City Stars. After earning the two-way contract, there was optimism that he could be developed into an impact player for the Jazz, but it was far from a guarantee. So far, though, I’d say he’s more than exceeding expectations.
Georges is averaging 5.2 points in just 7.9 minutes per game. His opportunities have been somewhat limited, but he’s obviously taken maximum advantage of them. In terms of per-36, he’s averaging a whopping 23.4 points, second best on the team.
But more than the mere production, Niang has been about as efficient as they come. He’s converting on 58.8 percent of his field goal attempts and a whopping 54.5 percent on his threes. Niang showed beyond a shadow of a doubt in the G-League that he is an exceptional shooter, and that has fully translated over to the NBA thus far.
But what has perhaps been most surprising is that Niang has been a much more effective defender than many believed he could be. What he lacks in pure speed and athleticism, he makes up for in basketball savvy, solid footwork and craftiness. Niang has shown the ability to switch onto opponents of various sizes and has been reliable as a team defender as well.
And all that quality play and success he’s shown thus far has led to what many likely would have considered an unexpected development. Georges Niang has seemingly earned a spot in the rotation ahead of fellow stretch-four Thabo Sefolosha.
Sure, it’s important to note that Thabo was suspended for the first five games of the season, meaning that there was no chance for him to hit the floor during the early part of the year which allowed Niang the opportunity in the first place. However, Sefolosha was very much available in Utah’s game against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, yet he did not see a second of action whereas Niang logged a season-high 13 minutes and a career-high 13 points.
The fact that Niang not only played in a game where Sefolosha was available, but went on to log his highest minute output of the season is a testament to how hard he’s worked and how much he’s quickly gained Quin Snyder’s trust. If that game is any indication of what we should expect moving forward, then it’s entirely possible that Niang has proven himself sufficiently to earn a spot in the rotation over Thabo.
Time will tell if that ends up being the case, but I believe that at a bare minimum, Niang earning playing time is a consistent that we’ll continue to see moving forward. Due to Sefolosha’s skills as a lockdown defender and capable 3-point shooter, I’d be shocked if we see him rack up all that many more DNPs.
His veteran presence, stingy D and high basketball IQ will be enough to see him earn time on the court for this Jazz team. That will especially be true if Jae Crowder misses any time with the ankle injury he suffered on Sunday in Dallas.
But Niang has proven thus far that he’s the real deal. And while he doesn’t have the defensive reputation of Sefolosha, he’s proven to be reliable on that end. Not only that, but he’s significantly younger than Thabo who could be missing a step on that end of the floor by all means. Niang also appears to be a much more dangerous shooter and his fit and chemistry with the team have been solid.
That’s not to say that Thabo doesn’t fit as well, but there’s definitely a feel that the Jazz roster has embraced the addition of Niang.
In short, expect Sefolosha to still be a contributing piece of this Jazz team moving forward. However, if early signs are any indication, he may very well be fighting for minutes with and likely playing less than Georges Niang, who is on a complete tear to start out the season.
I, for one, am happy for Niang and excited to see what he can continue to bring to the Utah Jazz moving forward. Especially if his hot shooting continues, it will be nearly impossible for Quin Snyder to leave him on the bench.