Sports / Utah Jazz / 
Toronto Raptors guard Matt Thomas (21) shoots the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, March 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Jacob Kupferman, Associated Press

'Just one more sniper': Jazz excited about what Matt Thomas can bring — especially one former teammate

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Mar. 26, 2021 at 1:25 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Georges Niang started thinking the worst was coming.

Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey was making his usual stroll around the practice facility when he stopped next to the hoop Niang was shooting on. It was trade deadline day and Utah's head decision-maker looked like he wanted to talk.

"I was like, 'Oh shoot, what is happening right now? Why is he at my hoop? Am I gone?'" Niang said.

Lindsey asked Niang a question: "What do you think about Matt Thomas?"

What did he think? He loved Thomas. The two had spent three years living across the hall from each other while in college at Iowa State. In those apartments, they would discuss and dream about how life would be if they could find a way to the NBA. He couldn't say enough good things about Thomas.

"He's the best," Niang told Lindsey.

Instead of getting bad news, Niang was greeted with the ecstatic kind.

"Well, he's your new teammate," Lindsey said.

Niang hurried through the rest of his workout and then jumped on his phone to Facetime his old friend and now new teammate, who was busy packing up getting ready to move to Salt Lake City.

"It's pretty surreal and awesome that we get to live it together for such a great organization in such a cool city," Niang said.

Thomas is an elite shooter joining a team full of elite shooters. He has hit 45% from 3 in his NBA career and earned the nickname "Mr 99%" due to his effective field goal percentage on open catch and shoot 3s while in the Spanish League.

If you need any other proof, Niang, who is a career 39% 3-point shooter, said he didn't stack up too well against Thomas during Iowa State 3-point drills.

"You can never have too much shooting," Rudy Gobert said. "He's just one more sniper on the team. I'm excited to have him part of the crew."

Thomas will probably be pretty excited to have Gobert alongside him, too. Thomas' shooting ability truly jumps off the court. It's why he started in Toronto's rotation to begin the season, and he didn't disappoint. He was 6 of 12 from deep in the first three games, but that wasn't good enough to keep him in the rotation.

The reason? He was giving too much up on the other end. Having Gobert behind him should help that.

"Obviously when you play for the Jazz you kind of have, I don't know how you'd want to say this, but the cheat code with Rudy Gobert behind you," Niang said. "Rudy allows us to pressure up into the ball and force guys to the rim. As long as you can stay on your guy's hip or semi in front, it's almost like, good luck. So I'm not worried about Matt's defense."

Thomas, to his credit, is a willing defender. He's just small at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds. However, Niang said one of the best things about playing in Quin Snyder's system is that the Jazz find your strengths and maximize them.

"He'll learn our defensive schemes and how to stay out of different areas that would cause him trouble and play to his strengths," NIang said. "I think that's the biggest thing when I sit down with coach Quin is he's always focusing on what you can do to maximize your strengths on the defensive end."

For Niang, that means using his size and guarding in a way to take full advantage of it. For Thomas, it'll be something else. But if Gobert is on the court, he's got a good head start to being productive.

And that'll allow him to be on the court to show his real strength: shooting the ball.

"He helped me out a lot in college — when I did pass the ball, he was making a lot of shots," Niang said. "He has Jazz DNA, he's a great person, he can really shoot the ball and I think the way we play really fits his game."

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