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INDIANAPOLIS — He slipped on his official NBA game jersey, with his name stitched across the back, for the first time Monday.
Georges Niang put on his Indiana Pacers home white No. 32 uniform to pose for several photos and promotional videos during the team’s media day inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“This is great just the feeling of having an NBA jersey on and achieving part of your dream,” Niang said. “But you don’t want media day of your rookie year to be the highlight of your career.”
His life is different in the NBA, from expectations to attention. Niang would have been the most-desired interview the past few seasons at Iowa State. But that wasn’t the case on Monday.
Pacers Coach Nate McMillan said the team’s starting lineup and second unit are already decided, with plans to definitely play nine players. McMillan added that 6-foot-9 forward/center Lavoy Allen could force the issue to play 10 players.
Niang isn’t listed as one of those 10 at this moment.
“Really (Niang) is a humble servant,” said Pacers television analyst and 10-year NBA veteran Quinn Buckner. “They’re more interested in being part of a group’s success and so he will do whatever it takes for that.”
Niang considered himself to be a team-first player at Iowa State, a trait he says can easily carry over into the NBA. While he was counted on heavily to score at Iowa State, he knows his role now may be setting screens for other guys or working plays to get open shots for others.
“I want to come in and be a constant — be a guy that people can depend on day-in and day-out,” Niang said. “Competing hard in practices and when I get into a game competing hard to win games. I think the biggest thing is I know who I am and I know what I can do.”
But don’t count out Niang just yet on making an impact on this year’s roster. He averaged 10.2 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds in the Orlando Summer League.
“(Niang) just continues to impress in these pickup games and it will be exciting to see him in training camp,” McMillan said.
How much he contributes this season remains to be seen, but teammates rave on how Niang carries himself as a person, and also how he’s played in pickup games.
Veteran guard Rodney Stuckey labeled Niang as a versatile, hard-working player.
“I knew in college he was a great scorer and did get a lot of buckets,” Stuckey said. “The kid can shoot. And he wants to learn and wants to get better. That’s the best thing about him. He doesn’t have an ego and likes to take all of the knowledge that he can get and use it toward his advantage.”
Indiana guard C.J. Miles was surprised at how well Niang shot the ball from the outside, remembering a day where Niang worked through the same 3-point drills after practice as he did.
“He just understands the game — and I think that’s his biggest asset,” Miles said. “He knows how to space it, take advantage of angles — he’s very skillful. He’s not going to outjump you, outrun you, but he knows how to play the game. He understands where his teammates are on the floor and he passes well.”
But within that answer comes the one main critique of the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Niang — he’s not athletic enough. He heard that analysis plenty.
“People are allowed to have their own opinion and you sort of just chuckle at it,” Niang said. “It’s just who I am. I wouldn’t say I’m athletically challenged to get out and do what I do. Not the average person can do that. I think my abilities on the court can show them otherwise, but I use my brain to outthink guys who are more athletic than me.”
Regardless of early playing time, Niang is in a good position to make the roster after signing a guaranteed contract, worth a reported $650,000.
“You still have to wake up and prove why you’re supposed to be here everyday,” Niang said.
The Pacers open the preseason schedule on Oct. 4. They open the regular season on Oct. 26.