DALLAS — Georges Niang has been a two-way player for the Utah Jazz for just more than two months, and it’s been all positive for the former Iowa State standout.
“It’s been great,” sad Niang, who had appeared in six games for the Jazz before Friday’s home game against Memphis. “It’s been really helpful and I’ve been really happy with the outcome, with the G-League season ending and then me transitioning to being up here.”
Under two-way contracts, which are new to the NBA this season, teams sign players who shuttle between their NBA G-League affiliate and the parent club provided their time in the NBA doesn’t eclipse 45 days. Niang has played 15 games for the Jazz’s G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, averaging 22 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, but is now in the NBA for the rest of the season.
Before signing with the Jazz on Jan. 14, the former two-time ISU All-American played 26 games for Santa Cruz, averaging 18.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
However, playing for a G-League team in the same city as its parent club has been a nice change of pace.
“When I was in Indiana, Fort Wayne is two hours from Indianapolis, so it was a little bit tougher, but the fact that we’re in the same city, you can get somewhere (quickly),” Niang said. “It’s easy to get called up and called down, you don’t have to worry about any time change or anything like that. They’re doing it the right way here in Salt Lake City, and I’m just happy I can be a part of it.”
Utah is part of a tough Western Conference playoff race, so minutes with the Jazz have been scant thus far. But Utah head coach Quin Snyder has seen Niang impact the team in several other ways.
“I think his spirit has been important to our group,” Snyder said. “Some of the guys have even talked about that, particularly when we were going through a really rough stretch, but also he’s unbelievably supportive of his teammates. The passion he has for the game shows itself whether he’s playing or not. He’s one of the last guys to leave the gym. You see him in on off days. Everything about his approach we like.”
Hired in 2014, Snyder, who played for Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, is in his first stint as an NBA head coach. And Snyder — who holds a law degree and an MBA from Duke and has paid his dues as an NBA assistant, college coach and even coached overseas — is known as one of the more analytical coaches in the NBA.
Maybe that’s one reason he and Niang have bonded so quickly.
“I love playing for him. I think he’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve had just with his attention to detail and then his ability to explain it,” Niang said. “He’s relatable. I think that’s huge at this level.”
To date, Niang logged just 12 minutes with the Jazz this season, but there is one sequence Snyder remembers well, an instance that showed just how valuable Niang is to the Jazz, even in a limited role.
“We put him in pick-and-roll one time, which you wouldn’t think of,” Snyder said. “I was curious as to what would happen, and he made a read. Most guys in that situation at the end of the game would try to shoot and he skipped the ball across the court to a guy in the corner and got him an open shot.”
That play shows just how grateful Niang is for his latest opportunity, the epitome of a team player who will do whatever it takes to help his team, even it means passing up an open shot.
But gratitude is nothing new for Niang. It’s an emotion he continues to feel toward ISU for giving him a chance to play and excel at college basketball.
“I’m very thankful and appreciative of the opportunity that I was given. Obviously, I miss those days,” he said. “Those were some of the best days of my life to date, but the thing I miss most is probably the fans and just the support that we got around town. I try to get back to Ames as much as possible just to get that feeling again because it started to turn into home for me and will always feel like home from here on, until the day I die.”