Former Knicks forward more comfortable in new role on Pacers

Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (Former New York Knicks) (1) shoots the ball in the second half against the Washington Wizards at Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

While Obi Toppin was a member of the New York Knicks, his role in the offense was limited to a backup behind All-Star Julius Randle. Now a starter for the Indiana Pacers, the fourth-year forward is enjoying his new system.

Obi Toppin: Knicks Bench Role Came With Stress

Toppin spoke with New York Post reporter Stefan Bondy and made known how he feels less pressure to get everything right on the court under new head coach Rick Carlisle as opposed to Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau:

“For me, being in the game, being in live games, it’s easier to say you can mess up on something and get better from it than it would be in practice. If you don’t play, you don’t get through your mistakes and you don’t learn,” Toppin told Bondy. “You’re like, ‘OK, damn. I’m coming out if I’m making a mistake.’ That’s definitely super hard. For me personally, I would say.”

Toppin’s athleticism helped him carve his way into the Knicks’ rotation upon entering the league in 2020. Though he saw the court regularly, he did not receive the minutes necessary to get the rhythm he was aiming for on offense.

In three seasons with the Knicks, Toppin played 14.7 minutes and turned that into seven points and three rebounds on an efficient 49.1 percent shooting from the field.

When watching Knicks games, however, Toppin made major splashes on the fast break and in the half-court when cutting to the rim from the baseline or getting the occasional kick-out pass from one of his driving teammates. He never attempted more than seven shot attempts in any of his four seasons in the Big Apple and was rarely seen in triple-threat or isolation with the ball in his hands ready to create his own shot.

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Toppin is More Inclined to Coach Carlisle’s Approach

Coach Thibodeau’s stringent approach to handling offenses played a role in Toppin feeling like any mistake he made would cost him playing time. Though only two games into the 2023-24 season, Toppin has seen a slight uptick in minutes with the Pacers and has brought down 1.5 offensive rebounds in the process.

Teams coached by Carlisle have consistently ranked in the top ten in points and threes, signifying his savvy in crafting free-flowing offenses. Also, Carlisle has fostered the growth of several players from role players into stars. He helped Toppin’s former teammate Jalen Brunson see considerable improvement in his second and third seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and was instrumental in Tyrese Haliburton making the jump to All-Star status last year.

As the season continues, Toppin’s workload will become more apparent. He hasn’t seen a tremendous shift in responsibilities but he is satisfied with his new team and is excited for what the rest of the year has in store.