Toppin, Quickley show glimpse of Knicks’ future; Robinson Detroit-bound?

Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley have been inseparable since the New York Knicks drafted them in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft.

Quickley is a regular in the Toppin’s family events. He’s spent Christmas with them. In return, Quickley has been calling Toppin in ungodly hours (as late as 2 a.m.) to invite him to shoot at the gym. So, it wasn’t surprising that their on-court chemistry is off the charts.

On Sunday, as the Knicks’ disappointing season came to a close, that chemistry was on full display. Toppin and Quickley fed off each other’s career games leading the Knicks to a momentum-building 105-94 win over the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors.

“It’s crazy because me and Quick rode up here together and said let’s do something special,” said Toppin. “Me and him were literally in the car driving here saying we were going to do that. To have the opportunity to do what we did today was amazing.”

Toppin had reset his career-high in scoring in four of their last five games. He saved his best for last, finishing with 42 points and 10 rebounds. Quickley was not to be outdone.  The firebrand guard recorded his second career triple-double, putting up career-highs in points (34) and assists (12) and matching his career-best in rebounds (10).

“He said, ‘I am about to go crazy,’ and I was like, ‘I am about to go crazy, too,’” Quickley said of his pregame drive conversation with Toppin. “He wasn’t saying that type of stuff early in the season. So, for him to just come in before the game and say stuff like that, that’s when I know Obi is feeling himself a little bit.”

Toppin averaged 27.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists over his last five games of the season or since starting in place of Julius Randle, who was shut down with a sore quad.

On the other hand, Quickley became the youngest Knick in history to post a 30-point triple-double after he was inserted into the starting lineup for RJ Barrett, who sprained his right knee in the previous game.

The duo put on a show in front of a sellout crowd of 19,812 who came to witness the Knicks play one last time this season.

Toppin dazzled the crowd with an array of Slam Dunk competition-worthy jams and continued to flaunt his much-improved outside shot. He was 6 for 14 against the Raptors. Over his last five starts, Toppin had been shooting a mind-boggling 46.3 percent on 8.2 attempts from the long distance.

Toppin credited his newfound weapon to his growing confidence since he was thrust into a bigger role and no longer had to look over his shoulder when he messed something on the court.

“As my confidence got better, it became like as soon as I catch the ball, if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it,” Toppin said. “And I’m not thinking. I’m just playing basketball.”

On the other hand, Quickley’s growth as a playmaker had been the Knicks’ focus since the Summer League. It was rewarding for the Knicks coaching staff and front office to see Quickley grow right before their eyes.

“Absolutely,” Quickley’s replied when asked if he thought he was a better player now than in fall. “And that’s just from putting work every day and trying to come in with a mindset to get better and ask questions.”

“Big shoutout to my coaches — Erm (Darren Erman), me, and JB (Johnnie Bryant) work 20, 15 minutes after every practice. So, just trying to work and get better every day. That’s the biggest thing.”

Quickley had his second triple-double and third double-digit assist over his last five games. Toppin and Quickley’s strong finish to the season has mirrored the Knicks’ success. They ended the season with an 8-4 record over their last 12 games. Since the All-Star break, they have been 12-11, giving them momentum to build upon this summer.

“We had goals on making the playoffs and doing better than we did last year. But obviously, we didn’t,” Quickley said. “We didn’t get to where we wanted to, but down the stretch, I think guys got better, more confident. And you’ve seen that [Sunday]. We’re having a lot of fun.

“But obviously, we want to get better this summer and come back and do better as a group. That’s the biggest thing.”

Two-way rookie center Jericho Sims also grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds along with six points and two steals, giving the Knicks another second-round steal after Mitchell Robinson, who might bolt out this summer as a free agent. The Knicks have until June 30 to strike an extension, which team president Leon Rose said they would and have been doing with Robinson’s agent Thad Foucher of the Wasserman Group.

The Detroit Pistons have been long viewed as the Knicks’ strongest rival for Robinson’s services. They have around $25.5 million in cap space to spend in the free agency.

If the Knicks are heavily associated with Creative Artists Agency, where Rose previously headed their basketball division, the Pistons are known to have close ties with the Wasserman Group.

Arn Tellem was the vice-chairman of the Wasserman Group before he joined the Pistons in the same capacity. George David, a close friend of Knicks GM Scott Perry, has also rejoined the Pistons this season as assistant general manager after spending six years as senior vice president of the Wasserman Group’s basketball division.

Even if Robinson heads to the Pistons or elsewhere, the Knicks still have a makeup of a young, exciting team with eight players who are 24 and under, led by the 21-year old Barrett, 24-year old Toppin, and 22-year old Quickley.

“We’re not in the playoffs. That was our goal. We wanted to be in the playoffs. We wanted to take a step. But I feel that since the All-Star break, the team has shown some momentum and good signs,” Rose said. “We’ve been 11-11. We’ve won eight out of our last 13. And the opportunities that have been given to the guys you just referred to have been — these guys have gotten an opportunity and taken advantage of it. And for us, that’s very exciting.”

Then Toppin and Quickley proceeded to add more credence to Rose’s optimism.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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