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Hlas: Niang offers offense galore at NBA Draft Combine

Iowa State senior scores 20 points against fellow draft candidates

Georges Niang is interviewed by reporters and NBA website people Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago (Mike Hlas photo)
Georges Niang is interviewed by reporters and NBA website people Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago (Mike Hlas photo)

CHICAGO — In talking to reporters Thursday, Georges Niang sounded like he was rehearsing for Friday, when he’ll get interviewed by four NBA teams.

“My biggest thing is I’m versatile,” said Iowa State’s second-team All-America forward. “I have a high basketball IQ, I’m a winner, and I’m mature.”

That checklist sounds good, but the way Niang played in a Combine game at Quest Multisport Complex may have spoken louder as he enters interviews Friday with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards.

Niang scored a team-high 20 points in 20 minutes, and didn’t force anything in doing so. He made 8 of 12 field-goal tries, and had three assists that included a lob to Kansas’ Cheick Diallo for a thunderous jam.

“I think I’ve been solid,” Niang said. “I think the thing that makes me unique is I know who I am and what I can do, and I’m not going to get out there and do things I can’t do. What you see is what you get.”

Niang isn’t listed among the top 60 players on popular websites that have mock NBA drafts, and only 60 will get picked in the one that counts on June 23.

MORE: Combine suits Jarrod Uthoff just fine

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Diallo, a 6-foot-9 power forward who played sparingly for Kansas last season as a freshman, is widely viewed as a first-rounder. He’s 19 years old and has all sorts of upside. He can leap. Niang turns 23 next month. He isn’t a leaper. He may have a lower ceiling than Diallo figuratively and literally.

Diallo has 5.6 percent body fat. Niang has 10.05 percent, more than all but six of the 59 other players measured for a variety of things Wednesday. But he isn’t the doughy guy he was a year ago.

“He looks like he’s in great shape,” Prohm said. “His body’s changed, even more than since the season ended.”

Niang certainly has the offensive skills to play in the league. Here Thursday, he scored the game’s first points via a hook shot off the glass that looked unblockable. One minute later, he swished a 3-pointer.

Before the first half was over, Niang had also scored on a reverse lay-in, a left-handed layup in transition, and a turnaround bank shot with nine seconds left on the game clock and the shot clock about to expire. It all seemed smooth and natural.

“I thought Georges was terrific today,” said ISU Coach Steve Prohm, who watched the game from the stands. “He did what he did every day the last four years.

“He shows people he really, really knows how to play the game. He’s unselfish and has a great feel for the game. I think he’ll have a long, long future in the NBA.”

OK, Niang’s offense is a given. We knew that long ago, and really knew it as he averaged 20.5 points last season and 28.7 over three NCAA tournament games. But can he stop elite players without fouling? He had five fouls Thursday, four in the first half.

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His overall defense Thursday wasn’t great, wasn’t horrible. Maryland’s Robert Carter got some of his game-high 22 points against Niang, but neither dwarfed the other.

“I think some people try to throw a knock on my defense,” said Niang, “but I’m not a below-average defender. My guys don’t go out and consistently create mismatches on me.”

Niang isn’t promoting himself as a future NBA star, but his words suggest he is taking an aggressive tone off the court as well as on it.

“I’m a four-year guy who was blessed to play against top talent night in, night out in the Big 12 for four years,” he said.

“I won 98 games at Iowa State. I’m the all-time winningest player there. I know how to win. I think I can contribute to a team right away, help the team out and win games.”

He said he scored a lot of points for the Cyclones because they needed it, but “I can play more for others and get others involved.

“I can come in and fit in the locker room. I’m a guy that you can count on, you can trust. I think teams value that.”

MORE: New draft process benefits underclassmen

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About three-fourths of the players who get Combine invitations end up getting drafted. The individual workouts with NBA teams over the next month is where heads are or aren’t turned.

“I’m competitive,” Niang said. “I’m just going to compete and find ways to make myself effective. My goal is to be in the NBA whether I’m picked 30th or 60th. I want to play in the NBA.”

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