This summer the Cleveland Cavaliers had one major team-building tool to use, their Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (MLE). That gave them one big swing to make in free agency. To their credit, they made two; they used Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens as matching salary to pull off a sign-and-trade for Miami Heat wing Max Strus, then used the MLE on Philadelphia 76ers forward Georges Niang.
Known as “Bang Bang” Niang for his penchant for hitting big shots, Niang seemed a lock to boost their shooting. As a reserve on both the 76ers and the Utah Jazz, he hit at least 40 percent of his 3-pointers in five consecutive seasons. If he provided nothing else, Niang should have provided reliable shooting.
Unfortunately for Niang and the Cavaliers, that has not been the case to start the season. Niang has been ice-cold through his first five games in a Cleveland uniform, hitting only 20.8 percent of his 3-point shots and 30.8 percent of his 2-pointers. Bang Bang Niang is shooting blanks.
Only twice in his entire career has Niang shot worse from 3-point range during a five-game stretch; he was ice-cold in the NBA Bubble when the season restarted after a couple of months off in 2020. That’s it. Remove the Bubble and Niang has never shot below 24 percent from deep in a five-game span.
It gets worse when you factor in how bad he has been from 2-point range, shooting just 4-for-13 when he has ventured into the paint. If you throw out the handful of minutes he played as a rookie, Niang has never shot below 46.9 percent from 2-point range in his career.
Adding a player’s total shots altogether and adjusting for the fact that 3-point field goals are worth more than 2-point field goals, you get a calculation called “effective field goal percentage” that most accurately reflects a player’s shooting impact. If a player shoots 4-for-10 from 3-point range they’ve scored more points than the player who shot 5-for-10 from 2-point range, and effective field goal percentage reflects that.
Across all 30 NBA teams, 162 players have taken at least 35 field goals this season. Of those 162 players, Georges Niang ranks dead-last in effective field goal shooting at 31.1 percent. No one, not rookie guards or conscienceless chuckers or outmatched role players, has shot worse.
To rub salt in the wound, another player sits at the top of the leaderboard. This is a player who also signed for the Mid-Level Exception this summer, one who was frequently linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a potential target in free agency. That player? Grant Williams.
The former Boston Celtics big is, essentially, the better version of Georges Niang. He is an elite defender, capable of taking on perimeter wings and burly bigs inside. He is a good passer, a decent rebounder and a heady help defender.
Oh, and he can absolutely shoot a basketball. He has gone 16-for-29 from deep in four games to start the season, a pace that would propel him into the Top 10 for 3-pointers in a season if he keeps it up. He is also a cool 3-for-6 from inside, adding up to a 77.1 percent effective field goal percentage, by far the best in the league.
Williams languished in free agency this summer before the Dallas Mavericks worked out a sign-and-trade to bring him on board. His final contract number? $12.4 million to start, $53 million total. In other words, he signed for the MLE, a contract the Cavaliers could have offered him. They likely would have needed to send a second-round pick to the Celtics to negotiate Boston not matching, as the Mavericks did, but otherwise, Williams was absolutely available and could have joined the Cavs.
It’s made more painful by the two-way options available. Williams is having an elite start to the season for the unbeaten Mavericks. Kelly Oubre Jr. signed for the minimum and has a 62.7 percent effective field goal percentage, 24th in the league. P.J. Washington is at 63.8 percent. Players the Cavs could have talked to in free agency are having the starts to their seasons that the Cavaliers wish Niang was having.
Niang will shoot better the rest of the season; he is too good of a shooter to stay mired at the bottom of the league all year. Grant Williams probably won’t be the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. Yet the reality is that the Cavaliers moved quickly in free agency to sign a player with one trick, shooting, and so when the shot isn’t falling his impact disappears.