Niang thriving in Ants-Pacers union
As Georges Niang can attest to, playing for the Mad Ants is different than playing for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.
“You don’t have (all-star) Paul George coming up the court. He can bail you out a lot,” Niang said with a laugh.
But the similarities between the Pacers and the Mad Ants, their minor-league affiliate in the D-League, are still plentiful. And that’s exactly what the Pacers wanted when they bought the Mad Ants in 2015; a place to play for their prospects, who would hone systems and strategies identical to what’s being run in Indianapolis.
Niang, a rookie forward who has split time between the NBA and the D-League, might be the authority on this matter.
In 20 NBA games, he has averaged only 4.3 minutes and totaled 17 points on 7-of-33 shooting with 14 rebounds and five assists. With the Mad Ants, he’s played four games and averaged 17.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 31.9 minutes per game.
“A lot of it is the same stuff. That’s why I can come here to Fort Wayne just one day in advance and know all the plays, you know?” said Niang, who played last season at Iowa State.
The Pacers have sent two other players this season to the Mad Ants: Rakeem Christmas, who has averaged 10 points, 5.7 rebounds and 24 minutes in seven D-League games, and Joe Young, who has averaged 10.5 points, 4.5 assists and 24.5 minutes in two games.
There currently aren’t any NBA-contracted players on the roster of the Mad Ants (17-10), who play host to the Erie BayHawks (7-21) at 11 a.m. today at Memorial Coliseum, where students from northeast Indiana schools will be in attendance. But the Mad Ants have Alex Poythress, Jordan Loyd, Nick Zeisloft and Julyan Stone, who were all in training camp with the Pacers.
With the Pacers trying to integrate more youth into their roster, while also continuing to work on the up-tempo offensive style they unveiled in 2015, it’s important for them to get their D-League team on the same page – at both ends of the court.
“It’s very similar philosophies and defensive pressure. The goal is to get out there defensively, control the glass,” Niang said.
The Pacers still haven’t used the Mad Ants a lot; last season, Christmas played 48 D-League games, Shayne Whittington played 40, Young appeared in three and Glenn Robinson III played in one.
Niang has arguably embraced the opportunity to play in Fort Wayne the most.
“He always brings energy. I like the little things he does for our club,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said, adding that young players such as Niang can learn only so much from the bench.
″(It’s important) to get out on the court and really hit somebody, knowing personnel and having watched film. A player like Georges is finding everything he’s learning by watching film, then doing it out on the court (for the Mad Ants). That’s experience that he’s not going to get if he doesn’t play.”