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AMES — Georges Niang has long been called too unathletic to make the jump from playing college basketball to the NBA.
The Indiana Pacers chose not to look at the former Iowa State standout in that manner.
The Pacers selected Niang in the second round at No. 50 overall Thursday night, making him the only draft selection for the organization. Former Iowa State forward Abdel Nader was chosen minutes later at No. 58 overall by the Boston Celtics.
Indiana brass chose to ignore the typical knocks on Niang and look instead at what he can bring to an NBA organization.
“I think he’s always gotten by and been successful because he’s super crafty,” Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard said in a news conference early Friday morning. “My boss (President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird) is pretty crafty too. He actually said we were going to draft a Boston guy so he’s a Boston guy and we were going to draft him.
“He’s got the spin moves and does all that. He knows how to be in the right position on defense too. We needed that. We said at the end of the year, ‘We need to really improve our overall team IQ.’ And that was something we wanted to get accomplished with 50.”
Waiting nearly four hours after the draft began to hear his name called gave Niang some stress, but his selection by the Pacers made a lot of sense. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward worked out for the organization last week and said he played to his strengths.
“I think (Bird is) probably the No. 1 guy in the NBA that appreciates Georges Niang more than anybody,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm told The Gazette Friday. “Dribble, pass, shoot, smart, understands the game and has a great IQ, but character, toughness and work ethic. Those are the three intangibles that set him apart.”
Pritchard said the Indiana front office was excited by Niang’s ability to pass, score around the basket and work in pick and pop situations while maintaining an ability to dive to the hoop. As the NBA continues to evolve and reward versatile players, Niang sees himself as a good fit in the association.
“I think the way the game is going and with four or five guys on the floor that can playmake for each other, I think that’s the way the game is going,” Niang told John Walters on Friday morning in a podcast with the ISU athletic department. “I think that’s what Indiana’s thought was in taking me and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Niang will play for the Pacers in the upcoming Orlando summer league with an option to eventually make his way to Indianapolis. Pritchard said the front office envisions Niang as a player that could compete for minutes next season and not just as a player that will be stashed in Fort Wayne, Ind., with the team’s D-League affiliate.
Nader’s selection near the end of Thursday’s draft was viewed publicly as a surprise, despite his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame being seen as the most NBA-ready of anyone on last season’s ISU roster. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress reported Nader agreed to be stashed in the Celtics’ Maine D-League team next season, although no official decision has been announced.
#58 pick Abdel Nader from Iowa State has agreed to be stashed in the D-League next year.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 24, 2016
In a span of one season, Nader contemplated transferring from Iowa State as a graduate transfer to producing his most successful season of college. He parlayed his growth into a shot with an NBA squad and isn’t taking the opportunity lightly.
“I’ve been the underdog this whole time so it makes this that much sweeter,” Nader told Walters. “The works is just beginning now that I have the opportunity to prove myself.”
With Niang and Nader’s selections into the NBA, Prohm has produced four NBA Draft picks in five years as a head coach — the other two were at Murray State in Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne.
“To have a couple guys currently playing in the NBA and now a couple more to add to that pool, it’s great,” Prohm said. “It’s great for our program so we can hopefully continue to bring in other great players and continue this tradition.
“I’m happy for all those guys and they know I’m pulling for them.”
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