Knicks: How Obi Toppin can make a big impact during the 2021-22 season

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The New York Knicks have completely overhauled their team with more talent, but they’ve also put some of their younger pieces in a position to fight for minutes, which is exactly how good teams operate. Handing out starting jobs due to a lack of talent is how poor teams remain at the bottom of the barrel, but the Knicks have enough quality to go around to keep their starters well-rested and prepared to take on a full 82-game regular season.

Last season, the Knicks spent the 8th overall pick on Obi Toppin, but he was never meant to replace Julius Randle at power forward. Toppin was a high-character developmental prospect who could offer solid athleticism and transition scoring off the bench.

However, during his rookie season, Toppin found himself stuck in limbo, averaging 4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and just 11 minutes per game. The 22-year-old made 62 appearances, shooting 50% from the field and 30% from three-point range. Overall, he was a non-factor for a team that surprised and locked down the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Toppin, though, spent the majority of his off-season working hard to improve, showcasing some of his growth during Summer League play. Averaging 35.1 minutes per game, Toppin produced 21 points, shooting 44.5% from the field and 34.3% from three-point range. He also connected on 89% of his free-throw attempts, tallying 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest. Overall, Obi was one of the bright spots for the Knicks, who had a ton of positive takeaways from their Summer League roster.

Aside from his production, Toppin also spoke of the Knicks’ new additions, including Kemba Walker:

“Having Kemba come to the team is amazing,’’ Toppin said. “Great player. I’ve watched him as long as he’s been playing since he left UConn. Having an opportunity to play with him is going to be amazing.

“We have so many different weapons,’’ Toppin said. “We have him who can score, Derrick [Rose] who can score, Jules [Julius Randle], RJ [Barrett], Quick [Immanuel Quickley]. So many different people who can put the ball in the hoop. At the same time, our main focus is defense. Whatever we do on the defensive side will determine our offense.’’

With so many weapons, head coach Tom Thibodeau will have his work cut out for him, curating lineup combinations. Toppin simply needs to find his way into one of those combinations to mitigate fatigue for the starters. The bad news for Toppin is that Julius Randle rarely ever comes off the floor, averaging 37.6 minutes last season, playing in 71 total games.

If he continues to feature at such a high level without taking breaks, Toppin will have to prove his worth in other ways, potentially serving in a dual power forward combination. If he can improve his shooting, especially from range, Toppin could benefit from having another power forward on the floor to attract attention, opening up the pick-and-roll and baseline for dunks. It’s also possible the Knicks feature Randle as a small center, something he’s experienced in the past, which would open up the PF spot for Toppin.

Altogether, the former Dayton stand-out has shown tremendous growth this off-season, but the Summer League only proves so much. He needs to perform well during regular season play, but with a fantastic work ethic and confidence, Thibodeau will have a hard time keeping him on the bench.