Pacers draft Georges Niang at No. 50

Georges Niang is a four-year forward out of Iowa State University.

The Pacers had a quiet evening after trading away the 20th pick for Thad Young in the afternoon. That left them with just a second-round pick Thursday evening for the 2016 NBA Draft, and they used their lone pick at No. 50 on Georges Niang out of Iowa State University.

Niang, a 6-9, 231-pound forward, was part of the Pacers’ seventh and final pre-draft group on June 17. Then, he went against UNC’s Brice Johnson (25) and Kansas’ Cheick Diallo (33), both of whom were drafted Thursday. The Pacers also interviewed Niang at the Draft Combine in Chicago last month.

“We thought Niang is really one of the best playmakers in college basketball,” Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard said after the draft.

“They pick-and-pop him, they give him the ball, he makes a lot of assists, he can shoot it. And when he had the workout here, we really put him in those positions and we thought very highly of him.”

LISTEN: Iowa State coach Steve Prohm on the latest Pacers Podcast

When Niang was still available at 50, the Pacers were pleasantly surprised. “We had him a lot higher on the board than 50 so we were pretty excited that he got to 50.”

The 23-year-old was named First Team All-Big 12 the last two seasons and was voted Big 12 Tournament MVP during his junior season. He was also the recipient of the 2016 Karl Malone Award, an annual award presented to the top power forward in the country.

Niang, the winningest player in Iowa State basketball history, has been criticized for his lack of athleticism but he makes up for it in other areas.

“I think he’s always gotten by and been successful because he’s super crafty,” Pritchard said. “My boss (Larry Bird) is pretty crafty, too. … He knows how to use his body. He’s got the spin moves. He knows how to be in the right positions on defense, too. We needed that. At the end of the year, we said we need to really improve our overall team IQ and so that’s something we wanted to get accomplished at 50.”

That last sentence is noteworthy, with Pritchard sharing the team’s intention to build a more talented team, but also one that has a better understanding for the game and can execution head coach Nate McMillan’s plan.

[Pacers Podcast: Nate McMillan]

Several times late Thursday (technically, early Friday), Pritchard emphasized how unique this draft was with several teams having leverage and overseas opportunities because they owned numerous picks. The Pacers were in discussions to possibly move up late in the first round, but one move changed everything.

“It broke one way early and it changed the whole draft,” said Pritchard. “And some of those teams with multiple picks, instead of getting guys that can help them today, were looking to the future and stash guys, and so that was unique about this draft. And so one guy got up there and changed the direction of the draft.”

“That was unique. That was something we haven’t seen in quite some time.”

In his senior season with the Cyclones, Niang averaged 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. He shot it very well from the field, connecting on 54.6 percent of his shots, 39.2 percent from range and 80.7 percent at the foul line.

This isn’t a move for down the road and with their D-League team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, in mind. Pritchard said the team believes he can be a rotational player.

“His game translates because he can shoot and make plays,” he said. “Teams that are successful right now put [in] four guys, and some times five guys, that can make plays. He’s point-forward that way. We’re excited about that, being able to pick-and-pop him. You’ll see it in the Summer League. He’s going to compete for minutes. We don’t see him just as a guy that’s going to the D-League. No. We think he’ll compete for minutes.”

Coming of a 45-37 season and a first-round exit in the playoffs, the Pacers have already made a handful of keys changes.

  1. Promoted Nate McMillan to head coach.
  2. Traded George Hill for their starting point guard, Jeff Teague.
  3. Traded the 20-pick for their starting power forward, Thaddeus Young.
  4. Drafted Niang, a stretch four who can come off the bench.

To make the deals work under the salary cap, both trades cannot be completed and made official until July 1. That’s the start of the league’s fiscal year.

It’s been a busy 48 hours for the front offices, ultimately resulting in two key pieces and a power forward that helps fill a need.

“The way we watched the Finals and team that are going deep into the playoffs, that spread four has been something we’ve really longed for. That was really important to us,” Pritchard said.

The team will continue to go after playmakers. Including Niang, they will soon have 12 players under contract for next season; nine of those deals are guaranteed. They’ll still need to add another scorer and solidify their frontcourt, like the backup center position.

Come free agency, on July 1, the Pacers will have between $12-19 million to spend, the latter amount if they renounce their right to center Ian Mahinmi.

Niang becomes the second 50th selection on the Pacers’ roster. Big man Lavoy Allen was taken there by Philadelphia in 2011.

Niang is expected to be introduced early next week.

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