Obi Toppin’s time as a Knick has been underwhelming, due to a variety of factors. Is his lack of opportunity and production a sign of his eventual departure in the near future?
The Brooklyn kid being drafted to his hometown team seemed like a match made in heaven for both Toppin and the Knicks, who were starving for relevancy and more so excitement, which was one of the forward’s most notable qualities coming out of the University of Dayton. The reigning National College Player of the Year at the time fell into the Knicks’ laps at no. eight in the 2020 Draft and Toppin was extremely emotional, very honored and happy to be able to don the orange and blue and represent his city.
Aside from a few highlight-reel dunks, his rookie season was pretty forgettable, as he averaged only 4.1 points in 11 minutes per game. Being that he was a lottery pick and an older player when he was drafted (over 22.5 years old) you expected more stout numbers from Toppin, but given that it was his rookie season and the Knicks made the playoffs without his production, he kind of received a collective pass from Knicks fans. Also, due to Tom Thibodeau’s rigidness and unwillingness to give young players burn, Obi didn’t really get the opportunity he should’ve during his first season in the Association. All of that considered, it was viewed as unfair to cast judgment on Toppin this early on in his career, as he showed some flashes and insane athleticism.
Fast forward to year three and it seems like the now 25-year-old has seemed to be stuck in the mud in terms of development and the statistical trajectory that many of us hoped for from Toppin. This season is looking a lot like his rookie year and can frankly be labeled as disappointing, considering he saw an uptick in production in his sophomore NBA season, where he averaged 9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game in 17.1 minutes He even became more nationally relevant with his 2022 Dunk Contest victory, which obviously doesn’t matter in terms of the Knicks, but growing your brand is a big part of today’s NBA and it was neat to see Obi get his flowers on a big stage.
This season has kind of been a dud across the board, so why is this the case and does his regression signify the end of his time in New York is imminent?
Roster & Opportunities
This might seem like I’m being an Obi Toppin apologist, but a lot of the reason why Obi has not really taken that next step and lived up to his lottery pick billing is largely based on opportunity. Opportunity in this case can be categorized in a couple of different ways. One of the main reasons we’ve seen Toppin’s minutes and points dip from year to is just the increase in quality players on the roster. The Knicks are also competitive in every game and playing for wins, as the best NBA lines reflect, which can make it harder for Thibs to hand out minutes to a player he doens’t fully trust.
Leon Rose and co. have upgraded the team through the draft and free agency and now the Knicks have a deeper roster with other young talents like Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley, who have developed at a nice rate. Additionally, Julius Randle has bounced back and Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart have been added to the fold and are huge parts of this team as we approach the postseason. While this is all great for the team, Obi Toppin is adversely affected by this, where he doesn’t get the amount of run he should in order to improve as a player.
If you also pepper in the fact that Thibs, although vastly improved, is still a rigid coach who doesn’t have much patience, it doesn’t bode well for Toppin. Looking at the per 36 minutes stats, Obi Toppin at 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds is better in those departments than Quentin Grimes, and a higher scorer per 36 than Josh Hart, per Basketball-Reference. Both Grimes and Hart are better defenders than Toppin but still sort of a headscratcher how both have consistently more minutes, with Hart being more than double.
The Knicks exercised Toppin’s club options for this season and next season, per Spotrac, and barring any sort of extension, he will be a restricted free agent after next season. At this point, it doesn’t look good for Toppin’s future beyond next year, as he has kind of fallen out of favor to a degree with Thibs and the coaching staff. Thibs likely isn’t going anywhere after this season and the Knicks will likely keep their main guys around, given that they have found much success this year with this core.
Based on numbers alone, it makes sense as to why a team like the Knicks would opt to move off of Toppin. It wouldn’t surprise me if Toppin is a piece in a trade the Knicks make, either in the summer or during next year. Aside from dunking and being an exciting watch, he hasn’t really established himself as a plus shooter, defender or passer. A lot of this to me has to do with opportunity, as mentioned previously, but to an outsider, Obi’s statistics just aren’t up to par with what you would expect.
It’s unlikely we will see much of an uptick in Obi time this season, barring cluster injuries, but it will be interesting to see what his role is on the team next year, as the Knicks potentially try to enhance his value for trade purposes. Also, it would behoove Obi to break out in year four, given that he could hit free agency, still at only 26 years old.