We Really Shouldn't Need Georges Niang This Much
Frustrations with the Minivan are high, but the Sixers don't have a lot of other options on the lot to choose from right now.
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As Spike often alludes to, there's nothing more Classic Sixers than a guy in the rotation who we end up having to rely on way more than we should. Over the Process years, that guy has been Robert Covington, it's been the corpse of Wilson Chandler, it's been Alec Burks -- and for the last two seasons, it's been the league's preeminent Ben Simmons hater, Georges Niang.
Georges Niang has been bad lately. Like, really bad. Like, give Doc a break as team scapegoat already bad. He's arguably been the biggest on-court reason why the Sixers have only won two of their last four games, and why even the two they won still caused what could be considered a Twitter Meltdown by at least 20 other NBA fanbases' standards. Which isn't to say he's looked all that different than he normally does -- really, Bad Georges and Good Georges are almost indistinguishable on the court. There's just one key difference: Good Georges hits shots, and Bad Georges doesn't. And when shooting provides something like 85% of your player value, going 4-13 from the field and 1-9 from three over a crucial four-game stretch is gonna get noticed. It's going to get fans clamoring for their already over-clamored head coach to turn to someone, anyone else in the lineup to take your minutes.
But here's the thing: There's no one else. We can nip and tuck at his minutes here and there, but we don't really get to replace Georges Niang in this rotation. And that might end up being something of a problem.
First, though, a quick defense of Georges Niang, because (particularly after the last four games) it's started to become something dangerously close to accepted wisdom that you can't play Georges Niang against good teams, can't play him in the playoffs. And that's not really true. We all remember how frosty he was against Miami in the second round of the playoffs, sure -- and miserable he certainly was, shooting an unthinkable 4-25 from deep and going scoreless in three of Philly's four losses -- but we tend to forget that he was also that scorching in the first round against the Raptors, going 12-18 (!!) from three and breaking Toronto's back with at least four or five of those makes. Draw your designations between first-round pressure and second-round pressure if you insist, but if you help the Sixers win a playoff series against the Toronto fucking Raptors, that to me means you forever have at least some degree of dog and/or boat in you.
And for a good deal of this regular season, he was proving that as well. 17 points in a shorthanded win in Sacramento. 14 big ones in the Sixers' come-from-behind home victory against the Nuggets. 16 in the Hospital Sixers' iconic starterless upset of the not-yet-disassembled Brooklyn Nets. These were huge wins, and Georges was a major part of all of those, and a whole bunch more across the last two seasons of Sixers basketball.
Now, you may have noticed that all of those stat lines really just include one stat: scoring. That's for a reason: It's the only stat he compiles. There's no 15 and 11s in Georges' box score archives, no 11-7-5s, not even a six points with two blocks and two steals. He can't rebound, doesn't pass particularly well, has never gotten to a loose ball in his life and probably only averages about one block per 36 minutes while playing against his 12-year-old cousin in his driveway. With Georges, it's scoring or it's a lotta nothing. You can try to goose it up with an "and on 4-5 from three" or some other inextricably related shooting stat, but it's still just putting the ball in the basket. And unlike someone like PJ Tucker, whose true contributions are often close to invisible in the box score, Niang is certainly not a guy who helps your team by doing all of the little things. There's one Big Thing, and he either does it or he doesn't. If he does it, he's irreplaceable, if he doesn't do it, he's beyond unplayable.
And against the Celtics specifically, that unplayability becomes extra problematic. While I don't believe Niang to be unplayable in big-game situations in general, certainly there are matchups where he is particularly vulnerable -- and the Celtics' nightmare rotation of big, athletic, ball-handling, ball-sharing shooty wings certainly qualifies. Better defenders than Georges have gotten roasted by Boston's stacked perimeter assault, but our Minivan can barely stay on the floor for multiple possessions at a time against the C's. If he's going to give up as much as he gives up on defense against Boston, he needs to be absolutely lethal on offense; I would not say his zero-point, 0-3 shooting with zero assists in 13 minutes on Saturday night really qualifies there.
So what to do in his stead? Well, the Sixers are not exactly bursting with options at the backup four position. The obvious answer would be to stagger Tobias Harris' and P.J. Tucker's minutes to always have one of them on the court -- but that gets a little complicated if we're also counting on P.J. to be our backup center in the playoffs when Joel Embiid sits. Maybe you sit Tobias early in the first and third and bring him back along with PJ to cover those minutes, but that means either going undersized with our three-guard lineup for long stretches in those quarters -- which doesn't seem like it'd hold up much better against Boston than those Niang lineups -- or playing beaucoup Jalen McDaniels, who hasn't exactly wowed in this recent stretch either. Our rotation has already started to retract down the stretch to squeeze out Shake Milton and Paul Reed; if we lose Niang too then we're talking about seven guys total we're relying on in the playoffs. That doesn't feel particularly sustainable.
It's why certain people -- smart ones, even -- have started to wonder if it's time to go back to one Danuel House, Jr. in the rotation and see if we can play him back into being an option. That seems even more desperate to me than going seven-man. Nothing we’ve seen from House this season leads me to believe he can be an effective contributor in Game 74 of 82 against Oklahoma City, let alone in Game Six against Boston or Milwaukee. As frustrating as Georges can be when he's missing shots, at a minimum he's a credible shooter who needs to be respected and accounted for as one; defenses will get one whiff of House's funky stepback and never give him a second's thought again. He's a more solid defender than Niang, of course, but he's not a plus rebounder or a perimeter lockdown guy; there's nothing we can really rely on him to give us on a night-to-night basis. The nicest thing I can say about House right now is that I still have more faith in him than I would in Furkan Korkmaz, but bottom line is the solution for the Sixers' backup four woes is not simply sitting a seat or two further down the bench.
Was the best Niang Insurance the guy who's probably starting against us at the four again tonight? Maybe. Who knows how realistic the Sixers' chances of ever landing a bought-out Kevin Love actually were -- or who they might've waived from the current roster to make room for him, considering the two vets currently fully out of the rotation are also both owed guaranteed money for another season. But certainly, you'd look at the eight rebounds, five boards, two assists and a steal that Love gave Miami against us on Monday and the two points, one rebound and zip-zero else Niang gave us and understandably conclude the former to be more valuable. Still, if you're hoping for one of the two guys to get hot and win us a game (or even a series) in the playoffs, the bombs-away upside with Niang would seem a lot higher at this point in their respective careers, and Love's defense isn't holding up that much better against the Bostons of the world anyway. The veteraniness of Kevin Love might've felt more comforting, but would the reality of his production really have been that much greater?
Regardless, Love isn't walking through that door for us, nor is any other likely buyout guy who might actually be able to get fans excited. The most promising solution to our Georges Niang problem might really be to just stick with him and hope that his recent cold spell comes with an accompanying blistering streak right around the corner, and that he'll ultimately be back to providing enough value with his shooting to make up for his deep deficiencies in so many other departments. And we kinda need his juice on offense with our second unit, picking-and-popping with James Harden, frustrating the hell out of whoever we're playing, hyping up the home fans, starting shit with the opposing bench for no good reason. The best version of this team still includes Georges Niang. It would just be nice to one day be able to root for a team that had an acceptable Plan B for a guy whose Plan A qualifications are perpetually hanging on by a thread. It would be nice to want good things for Georges Niang without really, really needing them.