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June 07, 2023

Sixers free agent Georges Niang says Nick Nurse is a 'basketball savant'

In a podcast appearance, Sixers forward Georges Niang called new head coach Nick Nurse a 'basketball savant,' praising his play-calling and scheme.

Georges Niang's free agency may not be as important as, say, James Harden's summer decision, but the Sixers have an important decision to make on their sharpshooter this summer. And while an endorsement of the new head coach is only part of the calculus for a Niang return, the veteran forward certainly sounds bullish on Nick Nurse as the lead man in Philadelphia.

During an appearance on the Hoop Collective podcast this week, Niang was asked (among other things) for his view on the Sixers' new coach, who he described as follows:

Obviously bringing in a guy that is a basketball savant. He knows how to junk up games, he knows how to draw ATOs, run offense, and then junk defenses, how to play defense, he's done a great job. His Toronto teams were always tough to guard, and they were always tough to score against. So I was extremely pleased to see that they hired him and see they're moving in that direction. Obviously, it was unfortunate what happened with Doc [Rivers], but that happens in the league all of the time, right? There's expectation and when that's not met, teams kind of just shift. It's exciting, I don't know what's going to happen in free agency, I loved being in Philadelphia, I love the organization. And obviously having Nick Nurse there, he values smart players, and I feel like I kind of fit that realm. I'd be excited to definitely play for him if that opportunity [is there]. [Hoop Collective]

To Niang's point, he is a smart enough guy that you have to view anything he says leading into free agency as at least semi-calculated — leaving all his options open creates the opportunity for a payday, so he's incentivized to be Mr. Positivity up until the money he locks in his next contract. That being said, Niang has proven to be a straight shooter, and his assessment of Nurse lines up with what a lot of other people think and feel about Philadelphia's new head coach.

Niang was a hotly debated player during most of last season in Philadelphia, a lights-out shooter who many openly questioned would be able to play a role in a competitive playoff series. While his limitations as a defender and rebounder still remain, concerns about his viability ended up being mostly unfounded. He lit it up from deep in the first two rounds of the playoffs, shooting a combined 12/26 against the Nets and Celtics, and managed to hang in on defense despite the ability of the Celtics to punish mismatches. It ended up being a reflection of the year he had during the regular season — Niang had some ugly defensive possessions, but his ability to open the floor up for Joel Embiid and Co. made him tough to keep out of the rotation entirely. When you consistently make more than 40 percent of your threes, you will always have a home in today's NBA.

In theory, part of why you'd hire someone like Nurse is to take full advantage of a role player's strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. There is some give and take there, certainly, as Nurse's ability to mix up defensive coverages and schemes necessitates buy-in from players like Niang who those schemes might try to protect. One thing the head coach made clear in Toronto is that defensive commitment was non-negotiable, and players who didn't live up to his asks were often boxed out of the rotation from those who were.

Speaking on his overall approach to free agency, Niang described goals that seem to align with what the Sixers have to offer.

"Joining a team where I continue to be valued, where they believe in me that I can help the team. Continue to grow into a role that eventually lead to winning," Niang said. "You want to go to a workplace where you're valued and you enjoy going to work every day. As much as people think 82 games fly by, it's a long freaking season." 

As we alluded to discussing trade options for the summer, Niang's free agency will be one of many interesting test cases for the impact of the new CBA. On paper, he's a guy who provides real value that would be an easy yes to bring back from a strict basketball perspective. But as teams evaluate how much they can/can't pay role players in their fight to stay under the second tax apron, there's a potential for players like Niang to get squeezed in favor of younger, cheaper, and unproven options off of the bench.

If the Sixers can find room for him in their plans, though, they shouldn't have to think too much about how he slots into their team. 

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