Obi Toppin says Knicks rookies are showing why they should play next season

Alder Almo

The New York Knicks have upgraded their roster via free agency while maintaining their depth to build on the momentum of their first playoff appearance since 2013.

The Knicks went into the NBA Summer League with a primary focus on Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley’s development as leaders, and they are getting more than what they bargained.

Toppin and Quickley have been balling out in their first NBA Summer League after the event was scratched last year due to the pandemic. The Knicks’ sophomores have been included in The Athletic’s NBA Draft analyst Sam Vecenie’s ‘Too Good for Summer League Team,’ while their rookies have shown plenty of promise.

“It’s been great being out there with those guys, leading those guys, and pushing those guys. Everybody on that team has a heart and loves the hustle. When you’re playing with a bunch of dogs, then your team is fun,” Toppin said after the Knicks chalked up their third win in five Summer League games last Saturday.

In a true Tom Thibodeau fashion, Toppin (36.5 minutes) and Quickley (34.5 minutes) lead the NBA Summer League in playing time. Knicks Summer League coach Daisuke “Dice” Yoshimoto has referred to them as leaders of this team.

Toppin has been productive, averaging 23.0 points (no. 4 in scoring), 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks while shooting 46 percent from the floor and making 2.2 3s per game.

“Obi put in a lot of time over the summer. And it showed. He’s gonna continue to get better, put time in, and the result will gonna take care of itself,” Yoshimoto said. “This is his chance to showcase who he is. He’s gonna continue to put his time in, work hard, and build the right habits.”

The biggest takeaway here is Toppin can produce when used right. Toppin was able to show his potential as a rim runner, roll man, and pick and pop big man as opposed to his ill-fitted role last season as a floor-spacing big man just waiting in the corner.

On the other hand, Quickley, despite his shaky shooting (38 percent overall, 25 percent from 3) in Las Vegas, has made great strides as a lead guard with his 8.0 assists ranking third behind traditional point guards — Atlanta rookie Sharife Cooper (9.0) and Boston’s sophomore Payton Pritchard (8.7). Quickley also averages 21.8 points (no. 7) to go with 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals.

Their rookies Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, Jericho Sims, and their pick-and-stash Rokas Jokubaitis, who left for Spain, have followed their lead.

“All those guys are doing great. Quick (Quickley) has been doing a great job with Deuce (McBride) and Quentin (Grimes). Jericho (Sims) has been doing a great job listening to all of us and doing his part. Every rookie on [our] team is doing good, and they’re showing Thibs why they should be on the court next season,” Toppin said.

Heeding the advice of Allan Houston and Penny Hardaway, Grimes finally looked like the 3-and-D guy the Knicks have drafted in their last two games, scoring 15 and 28 points, after groping for form in his first three games.

McBride has been stellar running the point in Quickley’s absence (due to a sore groin) against the Cleveland Cavaliers. McBride scored a personal Summer League-best 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting and handed out five assists while playing solid defense (four rebounds, two steals, and one blocked shot).

Through five games, McBride, the 36th pick overall, is averaging 14.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.4 steals with a 50/46/88 shooting split.

Sims has made his first 10 field goals and is leading the Summer League in field goal percentage (88.2 percent) among players who have played at least three games and attempted at least four field goals per game. In four games, Sims has put up 8.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks.

“They are gonna continue to put their time in and get better. Let’s see where they are at training camp,” Yoshimoto said.

Toppin attributed their great on-court chemistry to the culture they had been building in New York since Thibodeau’s arrival last year.

“I feel like just the brotherhood we’ve built. Everybody on our team is very close. We hang out with each other every single day. And we love to compete. Every time we step on that floor, we give it our 110 percent every game, and we’ve got to continue doing that for the season,” Toppin said.

The Knicks will close out their Summer League play against the Atlanta Hawks at 7 p.m. Monday. Toppin and the Knicks are raring to come out with a bang.

“I think one thing we need to focus on is just lock in defensively — having our best defensive game and just having fun out there,” Toppin said. “So, it’s gonna be our last Summer League game, and we need to make a statement going into the new season.”

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