Any uncertainty about the state of the Sixers’ 2021-22 roster does not involve Joel Embiid.
The MVP runner-up will begin next season in Philadelphia barring a stunning turn of events, and the thought of playing next to him was especially appealing for new Sixers signing Georges Niang.
The former Jazz power forward considered the right way to describe what sharing the floor with Embiid will be like before settling on “amazing.”
“You’re playing with a big man that has to draw a double team every time, or he’s scoring,” Niang said Friday at his introductory press conference via Zoom. “Whenever you have a dynamic offensive weapon that can score from the outside, get to the free throw line, can punish the defender inside, it creates an opportunity for the defense to be in rotation.
“And when the defense is in rotation, that’s him creating shots for other people just by being out on the floor. And I’ve never had that in my career, so I’m extremely excited for that, because Joel is a willing passer and he can dominate the game by scoring.”
The Sixers welcome Niang as a sharpshooter who can capitalize on the chances generated from Embiid post-ups. He’s a 40.4 percent career three-point shooter comfortable with the subtle relocations and simple state of constant readiness necessary for an NBA marksman.
Out of Niang’s 124 made threes last season, 118 were of the catch-and-shoot variety. Niang views himself as a multifaceted player, though.
“Obviously shooting is the thing that I do well but when shots get taken away, being able to get in the lane and create for others — and be a bigger body on defense,” he said. “Obviously the four spot, you need some size in this league — so bringing size and versatility, being able to guard multiple positions. And creating when the shot isn’t there. I’m not a one-dimensional shooter. If those things are taken away, be able to create for other guys, to attract the defense over and get other guys open looks.”
The Jazz led the NBA in three-point frequency during the 2020-21 season (45.3 percent, per Cleaning the Glass). The Sixers, meanwhile, ranked 26th at 31.3 percent. Utah center Rudy Gobert is not in Embiid’s class as a post-up player, but Niang thrived in lineups with the Defensive Player of the Year and Mike Conley and/or Jordan Clarkson as ball handlers.
With Ben Simmons still a Sixer despite persistent trade rumors, it’s unclear exactly which players Niang will aim to complement besides Embiid. Simmons is among the NBA’s best at creating threes for his teammates, for what it’s worth. Andre Drummond, a former high school opponent of Niang’s, will be the Sixers’ backup center.
Niang, who said he’s willing to play minutes as a small-ball five if head coach Doc Rivers asks, sounded eager to suit up as a Sixer regardless of how the Simmons situation shakes out.
“I’m from the Boston area and I’m real familiar with Philly, and Philly’s a blue-collar sports town,” he said. “I was telling someone before, if you do it big here and win a championship, you’re taken care of forever. Along with that, obviously this situation fits me. Shooting the ball is something that I do well, and that’s something that the Sixers expressed to me that they wanted.
“I think the deciding factor was getting on the phone with Doc and him telling me what he thought of me and the roles that I could play for this team. Nothing is more exciting than being able to come and compete for a championship in a city that loves its sports like Philadelphia. So I’m extremely excited.”
A winding journey to Vegas
Filip Petrušev, the 50th pick in this year’s draft, is practicing with the Sixers’ summer league team in Las Vegas.
His journey to the States from his home country of Serbia included a travel hiccup that forced him to spend two days at an airport in Turkey, Petrušev said, but the 21-year-old big man should be ready to go for the Sixers’ first game on Monday.
President of basketball operations Daryl Morey said on draft night that Petrusev, the Adriatic League MVP for KK Mega Basket last season after two years at Gonzaga, will likely play overseas next season.
Petrušev would prefer to jump into the NBA as soon as possible, though.
“I always set as high expectations as I can,” he said Friday on Zoom. “Mine would be just to get to the NBA as fast as possible, start learning, start getting the experience as a young guy and just finding my role. I want to be a starter one day. I want to be on a team that’s competing for championships and I want to be able to contribute.”