Indiana’s relationship with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants is somewhat perplexing. By definition they’re singly affiliated, but in action...well...that’s harder to define.
They never mined the farm club’s talent, despite having need at Ben Bentil, Alex Poythress, and Jarrod Uthoff’s position, because they were already carrying a full 15-man roster. Meanwhile, Joe Young played two games with the Mad Ants, and Georges Niang played six. This, despite the fact that it was obvious that neither player was going to earn a permanent rotation spot.
Heck, they weren’t even given much of a chance to prove themselves worthy of a temporary rotation spot. When Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey were simultaneously sidelined for a stretch in December, Young played a total of three minutes. Niang only played more than seven once while Paul George and C.J. Miles were out. If neither player was going to see the court for the Pacers, why not assure that they would with the Mad Ants? If it wasn’t worth it to send them there, then why wasn’t it worth it to send them there?
The Pacers seem lost on the development model. Georges Niang and Rakeem Christmas played in only nine of 53 D-League games each, and Joe Young played in only two, yet they languish on the bench in the NBA. Worse, the Pacers haven't signed a player from Fort Wayne, yet Uthoff and Poythress, who would have looked good in Indy, were pilfered by other teams. From a basketball standpoint, it's hard to see what the return is on the Pacers' investment.
With so little to go on, it’s hard to assess what it is the Pacers have in Georges Niang, too.
How did Georges Niang impress?
It’s a small sample size against lesser talent, but Niang’s six games played with Indiana’s D-League affiliate, in which he averaged 19.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, confirmed his knack for making shrewd, winning plays.
Take, for instance, the patience he showed when, after picking-and-popping, he opted to thread the needle for Trey McKinney Jones, who was using a backdoor cut, rather than looking for his own shot.
“Every time you come down here, then you go back (to the NBA) having learned something and you implement things into your game,” Niang told The Journal Gazette. “The biggest thing was patience and, definitely, rebounding. I wanted to implement the game through the glass.”
The 23-year-old racked up nine or more defensive rebounds in two of his six regular season games with the Mad Ants, which should be interpreted as a sign of his willingness to pursue the ball considering he is not going to be able to out jump many opponents.
How did Georges Niang disappoint?
Defensively, he’s mobile enough to contest spot-up attempts and hedge against the pick-and-roll as a power fauxward. However, shooting below 35 percent from behind the arc (5.5 attempts per game) doesn’t exactly strengthen his case. It also doesn’t help that his release is slow.
Still, considering the lack of wing depth and how much the double-plodder lineups struggled to defend against spread lineups, pairing Niang with either Al Jefferson or Kevin Seraphin arguably should’ve been given more of a look.
Per NBA Wowy, the Miles-Jefferson tandem wan’t a net positive per 100 possessions (minus-1.0), but it was a lot closer to breaking even than Allen-Jefferson (minus-10.8) or Seraphin-Jefferson (minus-4.2). Outside of shortening the rotation, Niang’s modest ability to add some space to the floor was really the only option to facilitate the bench going small.
Al Jefferson’s root canal opened the door temporarily for Rakeem Christmas, but Indiana’s 28th ranked aggregate bench net rating never managed to move the needle for Niang.
What’s next for Georges Niang?
Probably the Orlando Pro Summer League, where the 23-year-old will have to prove that his pass-first mentality can compensate for his lack of athleticism and fit within the team’s new system intended to be designed around toughness and high energy flyers. Either way, it’s difficult to argue that he wouldn’t have been more prepared to do so if he’d earned regular minutes somewhere. Instead, he wasn’t given much of a chance.