Can Knicks’ Obi Toppin live up to his lottery pick expectations?

Alexander Wilson
New York Knicks, Obi Toppin
Mar 2, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin (1) dunks the ball in the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

It is early, really early to be having a conversation about New York Knicks’ power forward Obi Toppin. However, Toppin has quickly been surpassed by 25th overall pick Immanuel Quickley in terms of impact and production in their rookie seasons.

Obi was selected eighth overall and was expected to be a powerhouse in transition and offered the Knicks a dominant presence in the paint. Through 27 games, Toppin is averaging just 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds over 12.7 minutes. Ultimately, his production hasn’t even been close to his lottery pick expectations.

The former Dayton stand-out participated in and slam dunk contest on Sunday evening in the All-Star game, just barely being edged out but posting a few impressive dunks in the process.

Toppin is a physical and exciting player in transition, and the Knicks likely felts with their elite defense, he would offer them a rangy player when traveling the length of the court and scoring in transition. Unfortunately, his adaptation to the NBA has been a bit troublesome. He has been buried on the depth chart as a last choice on the second team. His 12.7 minutes barely scratch the surface, especially when Quickley is averaging 18.8 per game.

Despite his deficiencies, specifically on defense and inability to dominate in the post, Toppin has an elite work ethic, and most aren’t worried that he will eventually grow into his role and begin impacting the team.

The question to ask is, why do the Knicks continue to ignore the point guard position in favor of power forwards? While he is a developing second piece behind Julius Randle, New York has desperately needed a PG for quite some time. They are currently rolling with a rotation of Derrick Rose, Elfrid Payton, and Quickley. In fact, I would be surprised if Toppin even cracks the starting team next year, given the presence of Randle and the amount of cap space the Knicks have to acquire a star player. That doesn’t devalue him as a second-team player, as he can make an impact in that role as well.

I see Obi making an impact as a productive pick-and-roll man, specifically when featuring in the frontcourt, using his speed and athleticism to tantalize defenses and force them to move out of shape.

Since Toppin was expected to be a ready-made player for the NBA at 22 years old, his production this year has been a bit disappointing. However, when the game finally starts to slow down, and he can find his role, I believe the Knicks will begin to rely on him more.