116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The difference between being a great college basketball player and someone who can just get playing time in the NBA can be wide.
For a while, it was a gulf for Georges Niang. He was a second-team Associated Press All-American as an Iowa State senior in 2015-16, averaging 20.5 points for a team that reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.
But an NBA player? That remained to be seen.
Niang had all sorts of offense, but it was questionable if he had the footwork and quickness needed to prosper in the pros. He did get drafted, though, with the 50th pick. The Indiana Pacers took him, didn’t use him much as a rookie, and cut him the following July.
He went to training camp with the Golden State Warriors that fall, was waived, and joined the Warriors’ G League team in Santa Cruz. He played well enough there to get a two-way contract with the Jazz, who put him on their G League team for most of the rest of that season.
Niang is now in his fourth season with Utah. He was one of just 11 players in the NBA who played in all 72 games this season, starting 10. He averaged 6.9 points and 16 minutes for the 52-20 Jazz, and averaged 12.5 points over Utah’s last eight games, making 23 of 47 3-pointers.
“Guys that play defense find their way onto the floor, and guys that don’t defend find their way off the floor,“ Utah Coach Quin Snyder said in a Salt Lake Tribune story about Niang. “George just made that a priority. … His habits have improved and there’s a focus and a resolve.”
The Jazz open playoff play Sunday against whichever team becomes the league’s No. 8 seed.
Iowa State has made an impact on the NBA’s Western Conference. Monte Morris, Niang’s three-year teammate at ISU, is a mainstay with the Denver Nuggets. He was injury-plagued this season, but is back in the Nuggets’ rotation for the playoffs.
Talen Horton-Tucker averaged 9 points this season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He made what proved to be a game-winning 3-pointer last week against New York with 21 seconds left.
“The kid has confidence. He has heart,” said Lakers superstar Anthony Davis. “Second year in a league, you don’t see that from a lot of players.”
Tyrese Haliburton of the Sacramento Kings seems a likely NBA All-Rookie Team pick. Haliburton averaged 13 points and 5.3 assists and made 40.9 percent of his 3-pointers.
Haliburton was first in assists and fourth in scoring and steals among NBA rookies.
He was expected to get picked higher than 12th in last year’s draft. He should have.
Unlike Niang and Morris, Iowa State barely got to know Horton-Tucker and Haliburton before they took off for the NBA. That’s how it is when you have clear-cut first-round talent. It’s a good “problem” to have.
Maybe the Cyclones will have it again next year with another Tyrese from Wisconsin (Haliburton is from Oshkosh), freshman guard Tyrese Hunter of Racine.
Hunter committed to the Cyclones last August when Steve Prohm was coach. He stayed committed to ISU after Prohm was replaced with T.J. Otzelberger, who hit the ground running and has rebuilt the Cyclones’ roster.
“I mean he’s ideally what we look for as a point guard, as a playmaker,” Otzelberger said shortly after becoming the Cyclones’ coach. “He’s competitive. He’s a winner. He’s athletic, tough. He can make plays. A guy that can be a menace defensively.”
Iowa State was miserable at men’s basketball last season. Don’t look for that to happen again for a long time.
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