After a disappointing 2014-2015 season that culminated in a Round of 64 upset loss to #13 seed UAB in the NCAA Tournament, Georges Niang smartly elected to return to Ames rather than explore the NBA Draft. This decision appears to have paid off, as Niang became the winningest player in Iowa State history, led the Cyclones to the Sweet Sixteen, and earned AP All-American Second Team and All-Big 12 First Team honors, as well as the Karl Malone Award, awarded by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the nation's top power forward.
Niang's accolades and status as one of the best players in college basketball aside, his NBA prospects have been the subject of much debate since his freshman season, but a strong performance at the NBA Combine this month reminded many why he should not be so quickly written off.
Scouts are perhaps most concerned with Niang's physical prospects, even though his NBA combine measurements may have attenuated these concerns somewhat. Niang measured 6'8.5 in shoes with a 6'10 wingspan and a 231-pound frame, which should allow him to play both forward positions at the next level. He is just an average athlete for his size, however, which was confirmed by his testing results, as he noticably lacks both quickness and explosiveness relative to most NBA players at his position, which already hampered him at times at the college level.
Questions about his physical profile aside, Niang's development on the offensive end of the floor has been impressive to watch. As a senior, he averaged a career high of 23.2 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted while making 60.5% of his 2-point attempts and 39.2% of his 3-pointers. Niang's productivity was matched by his efficiency as a scorer and ranked highly among small forwards and three-point shooting power forward prospects in our database.
His efficiency is particularly impressive given his large role in Iowa State's offense, which requires that he wear a variety of hats and create a lot of his offense on his own. Most notably, Niang developed into a very capable shot-creator at the collegiate level, displaying a combination of tools that allow him to power and finesse his way to the basket, as well as the shooting touch to finish tough looks. Along these lines, he made an impressive 60.8% of his attempts around the basket, ranking as a far better interior finisher than all but nine prospects currently ranked in our top-100.
On one hand, he displayed solid toughness fighting through defenders on his way to the basket, beginning with a simple shot fake or crossover to catch his man off guard. While his first step is below average, he is able to operate smoothly using tremendous timing and an excellent feel for the game, helping him pick and choose how and when to attack his opponent. He is also very good at getting to the basket, compensating for his lack of quickness and explosiveness with excellent body control and instincts around the basket, using every inch of the backboard to convert difficult, often-contested looks. He also demonstrates the ability to kick the ball out to teammates and pass out of traffic if unable to create the requisite space to get a good look off.
Niang also did a good job of carving out space and receiving the ball in the post at the college level, where he relied on a combination of footwork, shooting touch, and smarts to operate with his back to the basket. He proved able to finish from both low and mid posts, as well, demonstrating a competent jump hook and a variety of moves with his left hand. He also demonstrated the court vision to exploit double teams in the post while showing flashes of developing into a solid option in pick-and-roll situations.
On the other hand, he is limited by his below average quickness and explosiveness around the basket. He doesn't get to the free throw line very often, averaging just 3.8 attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted and, on film, has his shot blocked fairly often. His limitations as a slasher appear to be more pronounced by his lack of a reliable mid-range game; while he made 50% of his shots off the dribble, he only attempted 22, only five of which came from mid-range.
While Niang will likely struggle to create offense as effectively at the next level as he did in college, he may be able to make his mark as a perimeter shooter. As a senior, Niang made an impressive 39.2% of his 4.7 three point attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted. He was particularly adept at shooting with his feet set, making 40.4% of his overall catch-and-shoot attempts. Furthermore, he was able to exploit his proficiency in this area to fake his man off of his feet and drive to the basket. Yet, it remains to be seen whether how he will be able to adjust to shooting the ball against longer and more athletic defenders given his deliberate and near-flat footed release.
On defense, Niang is limited in predictable ways and proves to be a pleasant surprise in others. He is actually an adequate post defender, doing a decent job of holding his position and, when he is dialed in, staying in front of his man. He does a solid job of closing out on shooters, as well. Yet, he likely lacks the physical tools particularly length and strength to project as a great defender against NBA power forward at this point in time. As a perimeter defender, his physical limitations are glaring. He struggles to stay in front of quicker defenders and does not have the quickness or length to compensate. He is relatively untested guarding the pick-and-roll as a perimeter defender and his efforts as a big man leave quite a bit to be desired. Given the fact that he is largely unproven as a perimeter defender and his performance as a big man left a lot to be desired, it still remains to be seen whether and in what capacity Niang could guard NBA players.
So, is Georges Niang an NBA player? If so, then is he a small forward, a power forward or perhaps a small-ball center? What exactly can he contribute to an NBA roster, especially in a supporting role? These are all legitimate concerns that Niang must address in workout settings, but his standout play in the combine was a step in the right direction. Niang brings more skills and better instincts to the table than the average tweener prospect and his measurements similar to Atlanta Hawk Mike Scott suggest that he may actually be able to find some success inside the arc at the next level. In the modern NBA, there may just be a role for Georges Niang yet.
Niang has more to prove in workouts than most in his draft class, as he'll need to endear himself to coaching staffs that could vouch for him as a second round pick or a target for summer league and training camp rosters. If Niang can build momentum on the workout circuit, then he could find a way to work his way up draft boards come June.