The draft has come and gone without the minor splash Knicks fans hoped for. What can they expect from Jaylen Martin and Jacob Toppin?

A Therapeutic Journey Through Draft Thoughts

The NBA off-season has become something of a soap opera, and that is both a gift and a curse. The ever-increasing need for slop has led to a world where @NBACentral and @LegionHoops have become some of the most important accounts on Twitter just by quoting whatever out-of-context sentence from a podcast suits the current narrative. This is not to say that this is entirely a bad thing, but it has changed the way that fans interact with their favorite teams in the off-season.

The New York Knicks are at the forefront of this conversation for no other reason than playing in New York City. This is not new, nor is this information going to be surprising to anybody reading this article. “Knicks for Clicks” has long been a battle cry for Knicks Twitter to combat any hot take that besmirches the good name of the New York Knickerbockers.

However, no matter how much righteous anger we may feel about the mainstream media coverage and the way the Knicks are covered writ large, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy at play for this fandom. The NBA draft brings the absolute worst of this mentality out of the fans in regard to the way that we cover these young kids and project our feelings onto prospects before they play a game with immediate draft grades and bust projections.

I am a victim of this as well; as much as I love the draft, we all have a tendency to hyperbolize the impact of young players and put the weight of the world on the 200-pound shoulders of 20-year-olds. Not only do we put this pressure on the kids being drafted but on the front offices drafting them. That is not without merit, and it is certainly valid to hold the guy making 8 million dollars accountable, especially when oftentimes our mental health is in some ways tied to the teams we support.

However, we often write about what the front office should do, without actually knowing what their options were. We will never know all the facts and while that should not keep us from having opinions, it should temper our judgment and disappointment just a little bit. I say this as somebody who wrote numerous pieces about how the Knicks should trade back into the draft, and even more about the plethora of targets that would be available to them at various points, none of whom they targeted.

So, yes, I was disappointed when for the second straight year the Knicks avoided drafting anybody that would theoretically play in the rotation. As someone who is consistently checking on Rokas Jokubaitis’ potential, it would be hypocritical for me to tell you not to care, or to not have hope. Those are the two things that I think we should never stop doing as fans and rooting for young players is what makes their potential successes even better for teams that actually see them actualized. It is one of the many reasons Knicks fans so fervently argue for RJ Barrett or get upset at the idea of trading Obi Toppin.

The reason I have gone through this whole monologue as a self-therapeutic process is that it is important that we do not project our disappointment on these new young Knicks. While there are valid complaints about the process, whether you do not think Josh Hart is worth the 24th pick or you are angry the Knicks didn’t trade into the second round, that is okay. These are valid complaints and if Kris Murray is awesome this year, or if Josh Hart is on another team, Knicks fans will rightfully be angry. It is okay to be disappointed and it is okay to keep the Knicks accountable, but it is not okay to project that onto the newest New York Knicks.

The Knicks’ targets in the UDFA market were not big names, and they certainly weren’t names you would have seen getting hyped up going into the draft. I wrote about a few dozen different draft prospects, many of whom were second-rounders that could have been had for cheap, but the Knicks went a different direction, and that is okay.

Just because our expectations were one thing, does not mean that another direction is a problem. As someone who was very disappointed that the Knicks took Immanuel Quickley over Tyrell Terry, I have been working on tempering my expectations and understanding that the fans know exponentially less than those making the decisions. We do have to learn to trust the front office and even though we have been burned so many times over the last two decades — that is not a reflection of this current management or specifically this UDFA class.

These UDFA signings are unheralded and overshadowed by their more highly touted teammates (league-mates?), but they are not without potential upside. It is clear to see what the Knicks FO saw in these guys, and hopefully, we will have a chance to see it as they are given a chance in Summer League. With fewer young players to develop, hopefully Jaylen Martin and Jacob Toppin get a chance to shine.

Analyzing The Knicks UDFA Class

Jaylen Martin- Overtime Elite

When you think of typical Undrafted Free Agents, you usually picture older prospects who have a few years of college basketball experience but underwhelming tools or a lack of NBA body. Jaylen Martin is the exact opposite of that expectation and is instead a high-upside 19-year-old who has all of the physical tools.

For the second straight year, the Knicks signed somebody from Overtime Elite after the draft. That probably speaks to the front office’s scouting of that league in its second year of existence. Jean Montero was the first OTE prospect to get a real look in the NBA before playing with the Knicks in the LVSL.

The 19-year-old wing is 6’5 with a 6’11 wingspan and high-level athleticism. There are worse baselines for an Undrafted Free Agent, however, he is still a bit of a project and has a lot to still put together. His season for the YNG Dreamerz showed glimpses and flashes in his first season in Overtime Elite.

He averaged 14 points and 6 rebounds a game this season for the Dreamerz on their way to losing in the championship to the Thompson Twins’ City Reapers. He is an interesting prospect with a lot of positive tools and a great motor. Defensively is where Martin has the highest upside, as his length and athleticism give him a really high floor as a defender. In OTE, Martin worked really hard defensively and got out in transition for a lot of easy dunks and layups. He averaged a respectable 1.6 SPG and 0.7 BPG in OTE this past season which projects positively to what he could be defensively in the NBA.

Offensively, there is a little more that is left to be desired, specifically shooting. While one day, I do believe we will get a high-level OTE prospect with a consistent jumper, that guy was not in this year’s class and was definitely not Jaylen Martin. Martin shot 26% from three on 6 attempts per game, and that went up to about 31% on 7 attempts per game in the postseason. Not only was the jump shot not efficient, it does not look close to being ready for the NBA. While the shot may not be entirely broken, it is going to need a lot of work to get to a reliable place at the NBA level.

Even if the jump shot does not develop, there are positives to this offensive game. He has a nice finishing package and uses his length and athleticism to finish over defenders, along with his vertical pop. He is a good at-rim finisher and gets there with a package of different dribble moves including a nasty eurostep.

Jaylen Martin is a project, and at only 19 years old, is definitely going to take some time. He is a worthy flyer of a two-way contract — given his athleticism and body, the ceiling is as high as anyone you can find outside of the draft. He will likely need some time in Westchester this year and may need a year or two in the G League to develop, but he is a high upside risk that the Knicks are buying extremely low on.

Jacob Toppin- Kentucky Wildcats

The four-year college basketball player spent the last three years in Lexington under John Calipari after spending one year at Rhode Island University. The 6’9 wing averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds in his senior season at Kentucky. Whether the Knicks took Jacob Toppin to placate his brother Obi amidst the turmoil and drama he is in right now, or even if they signed him to replace him, there is some benefit that Toppin brings on the court.

Similarly to his older brother, Jacob Toppin is a really good athlete and a great dunker. Only listed at 194 pounds, Toppin will need to get a little bit stronger but is a good finisher in traffic. This athleticism gives him a good ability to score in the paint, and will definitely allow for some highlight plays in Summer League.

Toppin is yet another prospect with a questionable jump shot, which is one of the reasons why he ended up where he did. He shot 30% on incredibly low volume with under 2 three-point attempts a game and frustrated the fans of Big Blue Nation with both his inability and unwillingness to shoot from deep. He did some additional playmaking this year on a weird Kentucky team desperately needing it. He is an underrated passer and can push in transition or potentially grab and go off a rebound.

Defensively is where his slender frame will probably hurt him the most, but if he can get stronger, he can be a potentially plus defender. He has great lateral quickness and can defend guards on the perimeter, he has good feel and rotates well. His best skill on the defensive side of the ball is his weakside rim protection. He is a smart and timely defender that can rotate and block shots with his elite athleticism.

Jacob Toppin may not be Obi, but he also will not be hampered by the same kind of expectations. It remains to be seen what happens with Obi Toppin and if he is ultimately moved around free agency, but Jacob Toppin provides a low-risk, high-upside flyer in UDFA. The jumper is a giant question mark but the athleticism, defense, and passing give you a potential rotation player if the jumper becomes reliable.

While one could argue that the Knicks desperately needed shooting and could have targeted it on Thursday, instead they took guys with higher ceilings that need time to develop. Both players will need some time in Westchester and be given opportunities to improve and are not without upside. The long-term approach is a nice silver lining from an otherwise disappointing outcome, but in the short term, there are two athletic wings that will be looking to dunk on people in Las Vegas. The Summer League Knicks (more on this soon) will be missing the big names that other teams have but hopefully make up for it with fast-paced transition offense and highlight dunks.

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