The Misutilization of Obi Toppin
The Knicks fought hard but fell short to the Bucks Wednesday night at MSG, 109-103. Unsurprisingly, the team with the superstar came out on top. Giannis Antetokounmpo racked up 37 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Bucks, who handed New York their fourth consecutive home defeat. The 'Bockers haven't won inside MSG since November 11th and have yet to record a victory at home against a team with a winning record.
There are plenty of storylines to choose from in this game. On the positive side, Mitchell Robinson ripped down 20 rebounds (11 of them on the offensive end) and scored 15 points. Mitch Rob has been playing some of the best ball of his career over the past couple of weeks. RJ Barrett was encouragingly efficient, pouring in 26 points while shooting 8-of-15 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the charity stripe. Quentin Grimes once again played well on both ends of the floor.
On the flip side, Julius Randle fell in love with his three-pointer and finished the game with just 18 points on 24 FG attempts. He hit only one of his game-high eight 3PT attempts.
These past two nights have gone pretty much as expected. The painfully-average Knicks will beat up on bad teams and find a way to lose to good teams.
However, today I want to focus on something that won't jump off the page if you take a quick glance at the boxscore.
Obi Toppin logged 14 minutes Wednesday night. He attempted five shots. All five were from behind the arc. For Toppin, who will turn 25 later this season, the lack of consistent playing time remains an issue, but the Knicks coaching staff's inability to properly maximize his versatile skill set and incredible athleticism is arguably even more alarming.
Let's rewind a few years…
In 2019-20, as a redshirt sophomore at the University of Dayton, Obi Toppin was the focal point of the Flyers' high-octane offense (a team that went 29-2) and emerged as one of the most efficient scorers in the nation.
Obi would be named the National Player of the Year after averaging 20.0 points to go along with 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 dimes while shooting a scorching 63.3% percent from the field. Per Basketball Reference, Toppin was just the sixth underclassman in the last 25 years to average at least 20 points and shoot over 60% from the floor for an entire season. The other five are Andrew Bogut, Blake Griffin, Marvin Bagley III, Deandre Ayton and Zion Williamson. (Bogut, Griffin, Ayton and Williamson all were selected with the No. 1 overall pick in their respective drafts. Bagley went No.2, behind Ayton and one spot ahead of Luka Doncic.) Obi led the nation with 1.20 points per possession.
It's also important to note how Toppin racked up his points. As a freshman, Obi attempted a total of 21 three-pointers. The following season, he expanded his range but still knocked down just 32 triples in 31 games.
Toppin did most of his damage in the paint, where he used an array of post moves to angle around defenders, or used his hops to jump over them.
Obi attempted 167 "close-in" two-point attempts in 2019-20. That was 30 (!!) more than any other Division 1 player that season.
Toppin also led the nation in dunks, with a school-record 107. En route to a career-high 31 points against North Florida in December, Obi had ten dunks (a Flyer single-game record).
In his entire college career, Toppin never attempted more than six threes in any single game, and never made more than three. The final five field goals of his college career were dunks, as were his first two buckets as a freshman.
Long story short, it was pretty clear what NBA teams could expect from Toppin when he declared for the NBA draft in the summer of 2020.
Despite having signed power Julius Randle the prior offseason, New York was reportedly considering trading up to No. 5 to snag Toppin. They were ecstatic that Obi fell to them with the eighth overall pick.
"As one of the highest-ranked players on our draft board, Obi was someone we really coveted," team president Leon Rose said in a statement on draft night. "He's an explosive athlete and one of the most dynamic players in college basketball."
Toppin's rookie season coincided with Randle's breakout campaign, and Obi averaged just 11 minutes per game in 2020-21. Last season, Obi remained anchored to the bench for much of the year despite Randle's remarkable regression.
However, when a sore quad sidelined Randle in late March, Toppin stepped in and most definitely stepped up. Fans begging for Toppin to see more minutes finally got their wish. Obi started each of the Knicks' final five games and averaged 27.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 blocks, while shooting over 55% from the floor and over 86% from the charity stripe. He was one of just seven players to average more than 27 points and six boards per game in April. The other six were Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Lebron James, Luka Doncic, Pascal Siakam and Kevin Durant.
By the end of the 2021-22 campaign, it was clear that Obi had put in the hard work required to drastically improve his long-range stroke. Over the final ten games of last season, Obi averaged 2.4 made treys per game (while shooting over 44% from downtown) but still attempted far more shots inside the arc. On the season, he put up 304 two-pointers vs. 169 three-pointers.
This season, the opposite has been true. Incredibly, more than 57% of Obi Toppin's FG attempts this season have been from three-point territory (89 of his 156 shots).
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