DALLAS — Georges Niang already is making quite an impact off the bench for the Utah Jazz.
Wednesday, the 25-year-old Niang, who played at Iowa State between 2012 and 2016, had a career-high 13 points in 13 minutes as the Jazz defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 113-104, at American Airlines Center for their third consecutive road victory.
“I think we (the second unit) have a lot of confidence going and that really showed tonight,” Niang said after the game. “Obviously, when shots are going in, it really helps our confidence, but I think the way the game was flowing, the ball was bouncing our way and we just kept it going.”
The ex-Cyclone spent last season on a two-way contract, meaning he shuttled between the Jazz and their NBA G-League affiliate, the nearby Salt Lake City Stars.
Niang played just nine NBA games last season, but spent countless hours in the team facility during practices and sat on the bench during games, experiences which the dividends already are becoming evident this season.
“It was tremendous for me, just to be up, see everything that was going on and being in an NBA organization that’s invested in me,” Niang said. “That was huge for my development and I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for the time that I spent up here last year, especially during the playoffs.”
Technically, this is only Niang’s third season in the NBA, so some might think it’s a bit early for him to have any sort of mentoring role with any of his younger teammates. But that’s exactly the sort of big brother-little brother vibe he and Grayson Allen, the former Duke standout who Utah selected 21st in the 2018 NBA Draft, have going.
“He’s been helping me a lot. When we’re on the bench, we’re talking through stuff,” Allen said of Niang. “He has more experience than me, so he’s helping me out and keeping me ready for when coach calls my number.”
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Jazz head coach Quin Snyder has been a big fan of the ISU product since Utah first signed Niang to a two-way deal prior to last season. And while he’s not surprised to see Niang delivering so consistently off his bench this early in the season, Snyder also knows the former Iowa State standout is one of several key cogs off the pine who are firing on all cylinders.
“Georges is playing good, but we are not a team that is about any one guy,” Snyder said after the win in Dallas. “We are not about our starters. We are not about our bench and we are not about any one player. This is a group that has to perform together, so when guys play together and play the right way, we are a better team.”
Last season, the Jazz advanced to the Western Conference semifinals before bowing out to top-seeded Houston. This season still is in the early stages, but Utah is again looking every bit like a playoff team.
And one big reason for them again being a team to watch in the ultra-competitive West is their Three Musketeers mantra of “All for One and One for All,” which Snyder has preached from day one on the job, a philosophy that resonates with his entire roster.
“Yeah, I think the biggest thing is we enjoy being around each other. Everybody sacrifices a little bit of their own shine for the greater good of the team,” Niang said. “And I think that’s rare you find that in professional sports.
“I think we have a great thing going here and I just think we do a great job of really pushing each other every day to be better. That really helps when you’re on the road.”
Since graduating from ISU in 2016, Niang’s basketball travels have taken him to Indiana, Utah and around the NBA and the NBA G-League. Despite being nearly three years removed from his time as a Cyclone, those days are never far from his mind thanks to the Cardinal and Gold bracelet he wears on his left wrist.
“Yeah, I’m a Cyclone to the death of me, so I got to represent all the time,” Niang said.
•Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas