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Utah Jazz’s Georges Niang winning trust of teammates, coaching staff by playing at own pace

Utah Jazz's Georges Niang poses for a photograph during media day at the Utah Jazz practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Jazz's Georges Niang poses for a photograph during media day at the Utah Jazz practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP

DALLAS — A 6-foot-8, 230-pound guy raided the Utah Jazz’s post-practice media scrum two days after the home opener against Golden State.

As Jazz guard Dante Exum was wrapping up an interview, teammate Georges Niang shot in one last question.

“So Dante, I just want to ask about your lightning speed, if you could give some of that to Georges Niang?” Niang playfully asked.

“No chance,” Exum responded after letting out a huge laugh.

It’s true that Niang will never beat Exum in a footrace. He’s certainly not as athletic as Donovan Mitchell, Alec Burks or Grayson Allen and doesn’t possess the muscular frame of Jae Crowder, but the former two-way standout is finding ways to contribute early without those superpowers on the hardwood.

“I think the biggest thing is making the smart plays and reading things before they happen,” Niang said. “I just always try to be in the right spot. If you’re in the right spot, you never really have to rely on your athleticism or lack thereof, so I always try to be a step ahead of what’s happening and watching a ton of film.”

In Utah’s 113-104 win against Dallas Sunday, Niang scored a career-best 13 points in 13 minutes on 4-for-5 shooting. The night before in New Orleans, Niang had five points and two rebounds in 11 minutes In the Jazz's home-opening loss to Golden State, he scored eight points in nine minutes.

“We’ve got confidence in Georges,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “We’ve got a deep team that we believe in and that doesn’t mean everybody plays every night or plays significant in what we consider to be heavy minutes every night but when you get out there, you have a chance to impact the game.

“Whether it’s to hit a shot, make a pass, or make a play defensively and Georges has been able to kind of win trust and confidence both from his teammates and from the coaching staff by just paying attention to details,” he added. “He’s got a great feel for the game, which allows him to recognize those situations and make an impact doing things that don’t always show up on the box score that is, they show up on the film.”

Utah (4-2) will wrap up a four-game road trip Wednesday in Minnesota, currently riding a three-game win streak. Through six games, Niang is averaging 5.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game with a player efficiency rating of 22.5 in just 8.0 minutes per game in his third season.

The Jazz bench is also shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks eighth in the league among benches, while averaging 37.0 points. Niang's early approach is simple.

“I think just playing at your own speed,” Niang said. “The thing that’s my advantage is sometimes I play so slow that the defense isn’t used to that type speed but I think when I take my time, it’s easy for me to make reads and make the right plays and some guys are over helping and some guys aren’t helping as much and the play really shows itself in transition the way guys are moving.

“I’ve been taught really well here just to be patient and play at my own speed.”

Last season, Niang appeared in just nine Jazz games — often serving as the biggest cheerleader for teammates when he was off the floor. However, he earned All-NBA G League first-team honors for his stellar play with the Santa Cruz Warriors and Salt Lake City Stars, in which he averaged 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 41 games, proving he could play.

But now Niang is looking to stick in the NBA after agreeing to a three-year deal in Utah this offseason — with the first year guaranteed. His role is simple and he knows what he has to do to continue to earn minutes, especially with veteran Thabo Sefolosha now back after serving his five-game suspension.

“Just to be able to defend multiple positions for a switching defense or just being in the right positions when we’re not switching,” Niang said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me and then knocking down open shots and playmaking for other guys.”