Georges Niang is Finding His Rhythm in Cleveland

After last year’s Playoff ouster, the Cavaliers knew they had to make some changes if they wanted to make a bigger dent in the Eastern Conference. 

A couple of those necessary changes were to improve their shooting from beyond the arc along with their overall toughness. Veteran forward Georges Niang checked off both boxes. 

Niang – who spent four seasons as Donovan Mitchell’s teammate in Utah – came into the current campaign having shot at least 40 percent from beyond the arc in each of the past three seasons, had the 13th-best long-range percentage in the NBA last season and once went 31 straight games canning at least one three-pointer. He and Tristan Thompson are also the only tricenarians on the Cavaliers roster. 

The durable vet, who’s suited up for at least 72 games in each of the past three years – (and played in 66 of 69 games in the COVID-shortened season) – is also one of the squad’s most experienced Playoff performers, having logged 46 postseason appearances over the course of his eight-year career. 

Niang – originally selected with the 50th overall pick out of Iowa State in 2016 – got off to a slow start in Cleveland, going just 4-of-19 from long-range through the first three games. But he’s been inching his way up the charts since, and after a strong two-way performance in a big win over the Knicks in New York, has gone 9-of-20 from beyond the arc since. 

The fiery veteran is also widely acknowledged as the team’s funniest and most talkative player – a good thing on a team of young players still finding their voice at the NBA level. But it’s not all fun and games, either. Niang has already spoken up when he’s felt the need. And, like E.F. Hutton – when he talks, people listen. 

Cavs.com sat down after practice in San Francisco to hear what Niang had to say as the Wine & Gold’s West Coast roadie rolls on …

Only a few weeks into the season, what’s your state of the union as the team starts its West Coast trip?

Georges Niang: I think the biggest thing for us is, I think the trajectory of this team and what they've done – even before I got here – is to compete and win at a high level. They won 50 games, and obviously we've been bitten by the injury bug, but you don't want to take too long to find your groove. 

We've had a tough schedule, with road trips and three games in four nights, but it's not just going to get right. It's on us to make it right. And I think that's something you just got to reiterate throughout the year: Things aren't going to happen. You have to make them happen.

Are you at all concerned about the slow starts defensively on the road recently? 

Niang: I don't think it's a ‘concern.’ I think it's something that we address constantly, and this being our third game of having everybody back, I think that's something that we'll see continue to improve over the course of the year -- because we're going to make it right.

On an individual level, after getting off to a slow start, do you feel like you’re finding your rhythm? 

Niang: I think when you start off on a new team, you’re pressing to show them what you can do. And if shots don't go in, you end up shooting shots that you're probably not supposed to be shooting. 

So, I was caught in a situation where I was probably taking shots where I was pressing, rather than just waiting for the right shots in this system that come to me. And I think I've come to grips with kind of feeling the rhythm of when those shots are going to come with who I'm playing with the regular rotation now that everybody's back. And I think I've kind of got my bearings. 

I know I was like 1-for-12 to start, and when you start that slow, it's an uphill battle. And I think you’ve just got to stick consistently to your routine. I know I've been doing this long enough to know what I have to do and what I have to work on, and I'm going to continue to do that, to just continue to go out there and make shots and be efficient in the minutes that I have.

When did you first start to feel more comfortable this season? 

Niang: Probably the third game. I talked to J.B., and asked: ‘Hey, how can you help me?’ or ‘What do I need to do better to be in the right position to be successful?’ 

We have great dialogue. We're talking back and forth, and I think that was huge for me that he took the time to, I don't want to say ‘humanize’ that relationship, but when coaches are willing to talk you through what they see and what they think can help you, it's helped me. 

I think since the Knicks game that we won in New York, I feel like I've been able to put together some games where either I'm shooting the ball well or seeing the ball go through the hoop, and then grasping everything that we do defensively.

You’re an established veteran who’s not afraid to speak his mind. How do you decide when to speak up and when to hold back?

Niang: I think there's a time and place for everything, right?

You have to be sensitive and realize: how much do people want to digest in a day, and the timing of that. Sometimes you feel the time is right and you say it, and other times you're like: Damn, I wish I would've bit my tongue. 

There's no perfect way to do it. And you kind of just got to go with how you feel and learn with who you're dealing with and what they respond to and what they don't, and try not to do that, make too many compounding mistakes. That's kind of how I see it.

What do you want to see from the group over the remainder of the West Coast trip? 

Niang: Just continue to grow and be resilient. Obviously Golden State is a tough team, but we need to come in and impose our will and do the things that we do, not let them impose their will and make us do the things they want us to do. And I think when we do that and play Cavaliers basketball, we're a really hard team to beat. 

But, as you know, just because you do it one game doesn't mean you're going to do it for the next 76. You’ve got to fight complacency every single day and continue to work at that constantly. It's not something that just happens. Like I said: You’ve got to make it happen.