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Finally healthy, Utah Jazz’s Georges Niang not putting extra pressure on himself with Bojan Bogdanovic out

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Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang talks to the media at Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Utah’s season ended with Wednesday’s loss to Houston in the NBA playoffs.

Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang talks to the media at Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Utah’s season ended with Wednesday’s loss to Houston in the NBA playoffs.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When news of Bojan Bogdanovic’s season-ending wrist surgery came out in May, a short list of Utah Jazz players who would be able to fill in for the Croatian sharpshooter emerged, with Georges Niang at the top of the list.

While it’s expected that Joe Ingles will be reinserted into the Jazz’s starting lineup and that a portion of Bogdanovic’s minutes will be handled by committee, there’s no denying that Niang has the size and skillset that make him the most likely stand-in for a lot of what Bogdanovic did for the Jazz.

Despite the very likely increased role, Niang is determined to block out expectations from the outside, stay laser focused and not allow any added pressure to creep into his psyche.

“I’ve heard a lot of press about ‘with Bojan out what is Niang going to have to step up and do?’ I’m just going to go out there and be the best me that I can be,” he said Thursday. “There’s no added pressure.”

In addition to all the noise from the outside and a change in his role on the team, Niang faced a bit of a hiccup through the first week in Orlando. After rolling his left ankle just before the team departed from Utah on July 7, Niang hadn’t been a full participant in practice until Thursday.

“It’s important for us to begin to feel the way that we’re going to have to play to be successful and obviously Georges is a part of that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s been a key guy for us this year with his ability to shoot the ball and stretch the floor and make plays.”

Even with the setback, reports from teammates and Snyder indicate Niang will be more than ready to go when games begin on July 30.

“It kind of doesn’t feel like he’s been missing because he’s always a spark whether it’s talking or going through drills,” Donovan Mitchell said. “He’s not a guy that takes too long to remember plays or remember certain things. It was really easy for him to jump right in and for us he didn’t miss a beat.”

Niang noted that the soreness in his left ankle was minor and that not practicing fully was completely precautionary. He even joked that the reason he had to take some time off was because “Coach said I was kicking too much a-- so I had to take it easy.”

In the past Niang has admitted to getting caught up in thinking too far ahead and trying to do too much, creating a spiral of anxiety. When it came to the season suspension, Orlando, and the NBA’s restart, he knew there were going to be a lot of variables and things out of his control. So, Niang made it a point to put conditioning at the top of his priority list, a move that paid off.

“Getting back into game rhythm, game shape, and making sure I was 100% to do that was something I was focused on every day,” he said. ”Here’s the thing, I can only control how hard I play, effort, my attitude and how I treat other people. Obviously Bojan is out, it looks like there is going to be more opportunity but I can only go in there and do what I’m capable of.”

What Niang is capable of is pretty impressive. Averaging 13.3 minutes per game, Niang shot 41.6% from 3-point range before the season halted. That’s the best 3-point percentage on the Jazz, just a hair above Bogdanovic’s 41.4%, though Bogdanovic did it at a much higher volume.

Snyder recognizes Niang’s ability and how much the team is going to need him in the upcoming stretch of games so as the team was practicing without Niang, Snyder wrestled with how much to make adjustments in practice, knowing that Niang would be coming back soon.

“Adjustments in general are such a part of this game,” Snyder said. “There’s an adjustment first with Bojan being out and then not having an opportunity to have Georges in a practice. ... That balance between doing what you do and trying to do it better, and making adjustments that you know are going to help your team — how much of that really can they absorb in a short period of time?”

Now that Niang is back, the Jazz can find some sense of normalcy as they enter the home stretch of the season.