New York Knicks‘ RJ Barrett and New Orlean Pelicans’ Zion Williamson were the first freshman teammates in college to average 20-plus points per game. The dynamic pair wound up their one-and-done season in Duke with an identical 22.6-point average.
This is the scenario that Barrett has been envisioning with the arrival of Obi Toppin, the Knicks’ lottery pick this year.
“I feel like it’s gonna work well. You’ve seen me play next to [that type of player] and how it worked well with Mitch (Robinson), worked well with Zion (Williamson) in the past. He (Toppin) is very versatile. He can pick and roll, pick and pop, you can put him on the deck, he can shoot it. I’m excited to have him. He gives us another dimension,” Barrett said on his zoom call with reporters on Monday.
Barrett has struggled to find his footing in the NBA during his rookie season without a running mate like Williamson.
As a result, Barrett’s solid all-around production (14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.0 steal) which was better than some of the freshmen named in the NBA All-Rookie teams was trumped by his inefficiency (40.2% FG and 61.4% FT).
Barrett wasn’t an analytics darling last season, but eye test suggests that the Knick’s poor spacing and outside shooting have a hand in his struggles.
Can Toppin generate a Zion effect?
Toppin isn’t a mountain of muscle like Williamson, whose imposing presence has generated open looks for Barrett in college. But Toppin has the combination of freakish athleticism, hops, length, and shooting that is expected to have the same effect that could make Barrett more efficient.
Like Williamson, Toppin has a big personality and the highlight reels that may overshadow Barrett. But the Canadian wingman has thrived before, taking a backseat in college next to Williamson. Not a tinge of jealousy has broken their bond.
And Barrett looks genuinely happy to have Toppin and bonded with him right away.
“We work out at the same time every day. So I’ve really been connecting with him. Great dude,” Barrett said of his early impression of Toppin. “He’s a hard worker for sure. Very talented, very athletic, very versatile. I’m excited to have him on our team, and I feel like we’ll play well together.”
While Toppin could become New York’s new apple of the eye, the hometown kid isn’t the kind who steals the spotlight.
“Iâ€™m a big team-guy. Iâ€™m never gonna say my expectations only for myself. Me, coming into a new brotherhood, new family, I feel like I wanna change the culture, I wanna win a lot of games. I wanna get to the playoffs,” Toppin said in his zoom call with reporters on Thursday.
“I love to compete. I love to grind. I like to get better every single day and I like to push everybody around me to get better. Iâ€™m a very cool person to be around,” he added.
It looks like the Knicks’ new 1-2 punch is having a smooth start to their partnership. That’s good news to the Knicks’ fans and could be bad news to the other teams.
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