Some of you remember my last post regarding Obi Toppin, one where I pondered his future in a Knicks uniform. To my own pleasure, Toppin saw that post and decided, “Screw this guy, I’m making sure I finish the year better than I started.”
Don’t act like you weren’t concerned at some point yourselves, though. Toppin was an “old” rookie with evident troubles figuring out what he was supposed to be doing within the flow of the Knicks offense and defense; he looked like a deer in headlights more often than not, and couldn’t finish a basic layup in transition.
Enter the playoffs, and Toppin stole the hearts of each and every Knicks fan like DiCaprio in Titanic.
Showing up when it counts
Toppin’s playoff performances, no matter how minimal, made a distinct impact on each and every game. Yes, the Knicks were blown out in the final three games of the series, but we still got to see a glimpse of Toppin’s will to contribute.
He was so tentative and timid on the court throughout the season, only to have some of the more energizing plays of the postseason for the Knicks. He looked aware of what he was supposed to be doing, he was making defensive stops and adjustments to help those who got blown by, and his offensive IQ took a leap.
For an older rookie, Toppin’s drastic improvement from the regular season into the postseason caught most of us by surprise, no matter how much I know other people won’t admit it.
This dunk, for starters, brought out the eventual truth for Toppin: he was ready to make the right play for this team on the biggest stage.
But it was Game 2 where, I feel, Toppin brought everything home.
Much like Toppin’s mother, I was crying tears of joy, and I openly joined in on the “Obi” chants — by the way, I walked right past Toppin’s entire family, and I will never not bring that up.
I’d like to think that Toppin’s motor and energy were a sparkplug for the Knicks’ first couple of games in the playoffs, it was an overall team failure that they lost in five games.
This brings me to my expectations moving forward.
I tweeted this out, and it’s likely been mentioned before me, but I’m looking at Cam Johnson as a template for Toppin’s role going forward, assuming he remains with the Knicks beyond this summer.
Johnson was drafted 11th overall, has taken some time to become truly relevant in the league, is currently in the friggin Finals, and is making an impact when called upon.
Granted, Toppin is neither the shooter nor defender Johnson can be, but he can step in and provide value given time.
Comparing the Suns’ trajectory to the Knicks’ is, obviously, blasphemous. Nonetheless, comparing the two players’ career paths doesn’t seem as crazy.
Toppin may have had more expectations coming in as a CBB Player of the Year, but the principle, I feel, remains the same. Older rookies, role players off the bench, able to come in and do something crazy to get the crowd, and team, pumped up.
Take this dunk/charge for example. Everyone lost their minds, and that’s the type of stuff teams need at times to truly get things going. Maybe this is a bad example, though, as the Suns would go on to lose by 20.
Either way, you get my reasoning behind why I see a similarity between the two, no?
As far as developing Toppin, there isn’t much I can offer other than working on shooting and being a more commanding rim runner. Dunks are awesome, but Toppin has a legitimate skill he underutilizes, albeit at the fault of our very own Coach of the Year, and that skill is putting the ball on the floor.
He can’t cross anyone up, but he has such a quick step and enough hang time to finish some crazy layups. We’ve seen it happen a few times this season, why not make it happen more?
With a full off season with the Knicks’ staff, I don’t see a realm of possibility in which Toppin doesn’t enter next season with a much more comfortable presence on the court. Thibodeau would be foolish not to call his number more often after he debatably outshined even the best players on the team this postseason.
I look forward to Toppin’s second season for that reason.