OK, Jim. Today we’re here to weigh in on the long-limbed, high center of gravity, 6’9”, 220, 22 years old sophomore sensation, Obi Toppin! Men amongst boys at the college level. He’s a Bushwick-born, Florida-fled, Ossining Pride product by way of Mount Zion Prep and the Dayton Flyers of Ohio.
A modern big who shoots down some three point bucks and can certainly raise up for a large dunkaccino. Big Obi won both the Wooden and Naismith awards this year, just like the Liberty’s prized rookie, Sabrina Ionescu. Could be fun to have the awards twins in town. Ionescu nabbed the Wooden award in back to back years though, so bragging rights go to Sabrina.
As a high school junior, Obi was only 6’2” when suddenly he grew six inches and leapt up to varsity for the first time as a senior. That meant he wasn’t highly recruited, so he bounced over to Mount Zion Prep in Baltimore after high school. From there he finally got some offers at the college level and took a flyer on Dayton. Then he had an academic redshirt season and finally he got his shot as a 21-year old freshman, where he exploded onto the scene.
Just over half of Obi’s field goal attempts came at the rim this year where he shot a positively glistening 82.8%, per Hoop-Math. He also canned a clean 39% of his triples. Pulsing home 20 points a game, the dunks rightly get the attention, but Obi has nice touch around the goal, using his body to shield the ball and his length to find the open angle.
Despite being hyped because of the sheer volume and finesse on the dunking front, Obi is an unselfish ball mover who makes the extra pass along the perimeter without hesitation. He also did a pretty good job finding the open man when help comes. He’ll reliably be able to make the easy kick or use his length and athleticism to find the long skip pass at times. While he isn’t a certified dimer, he does make good reads and got a lot of assists in high-low situations when someone was sneaking or sealing behind the defense.
The dunks though, people, they really are a sight to behold and my goodness were there a lot of them. As a freshman he set the school record for total dunks. There are obvious comparisons to Amar’e Stoudemire and Obi hears them.
The Stoudemire comparisons aren’t all good though. Toppin isn’t an imposing and physical screener, often slipping or whirling away before any advantage can be created. He also lacks blazing speed and his sort of lumbering gait reminds me of late era Knicks Amar’e. A rudimentary handle also keeps him from being more than a one power dribble or two bounces and take off kinda guy. A strictly straight line driver, he’s also not especially shifty in the key and will need to add some funky stuff if he intends to keep his dipsy-doo reputation.
When you look at the schedule you sorta stop wondering how a 22-year old NBA prospect got things done. The Atlantic-10 isn’t exactly peppering you with fortified defenses and Obi can be pushed around by tougher, bulkier guys even if they’re significantly shorter. Dayton’s non-conference schedule was a tad more threatening, and their only two losses were against Kansas (in a great overtime thriller) and Colorado before the season was discontinued. In the Kansas game Obi looked outmatched by the size on the interior at first. It took him nearly 12 minutes of game time to even get his first shot.
At the line he hit just over 70% in his two seasons for the Flyers, which is acceptable, and Toppin sported a decent enough .364 free throw rate in 2019-20, but playing for a Dayton team that shot the ball really well and moved it freely, you’d hope he could find more driving lanes and attack off-balance defenders. NBA spacing isn’t going to feel too much different for Obi in the half court. It does leave me worried that the increased physicality and speed might just lop off a huge chunk of what made him go in college.
Obi doesn’t take much in the way of bad shots, so it keeps his percentages looking all nice and pleasant. However, that penchant for patience leads to a lower volume than you’d want, if you have designs on making him an offensive focal point. If he is considered a top five-ish talent, isn’t that something you’d want? He might be an excellent piece of myofascial tissue, but his game is suited to an offense that sets up all the nails and just lets him hammer them home.
The three ball is what might help him make hay if he’s unable to just beat people down the floor or dunk on them rolling to the rim. He made .417% in two college seasons from deep, of which 93.8% were assisted. Catch and shoot is a valuable commodity, but it can also be painted as a limitation. It looks pretty, but you’re not getting many of these dribble pull ups (note where he set up to get the ball initially).
Just 2.6 3PA per game this year, up from a measly 0.6 in 2018-19. The increase is encouraging, but he shouldn’t be confused for some sort of lethal sniper. Of course you want to dot the line with guys who can hit, but Obi won’t be screaming off pin downs and melting defenses. Close out appropriately, keep the back door shut and you’ve done your job. Although he still might be able to just go up and over you.
If the point of attack defender can funnel their man into Obi’s clutches, the elevation and length can take care of the rest. His stretchiness also comes in handy when shooting the gap on lazy passes. Weak side and help shot blocking will be a perky finding every now and then. Averaging one steal and just over a block per game, Toppin does find ways to stay active on the defensive end.
How much time do we have? Jumping to spots rather than chopping his feet is the first thing that leaps out at me. Jump out to guard pretty much any capable NBA wing on a switch and Toppin is gonna be stuck in mud. Footwork can definitely improve with the right coaching staff that gives him proper guidance. Some of his footwork folly can simply be cut out by not feigning weak side help, only to not actually help and simultaneously not cover his assignment, which he loves doing. Better passers at the NBA level will cut that open.
Unfortunately that lumbering gait will rear its ugly and the Amar’e Stoudemire comparison will surface again. This time as the current, Tel Aviv era Amar’e (shout out to Prez). Obi really does not navigate this side of the floor particularly well, often losing sight of the ball and being overly focused on where his man is, as opposed to where his man is trying to go. Denying the set-up action is a huge part of successful defense and Toppin might not really have a grasp on what actions are knocking down the dominoes.
For a guy who is absolutely a big, Obi tends to play more like a wing on defense. Whenever on the block he tends to allow decent position as if he’s going to be able to follow his man around a bevy of screens. Then as possessions develop, the opposing bigs just continue to bear down, and he often finds himself in terrible position to box out. Some of that is mitigated by using length and bounce to go get those boards but snagging 7.5 a game as the lone big with a foreboding 14.5 TRB% is unimpressive.
Lastly, the guy has to stick with possessions. Local papers had an Obi Toppin dunk tracker, but local coaches probably had an Obi Toppin leak-out tracker. I’m sure it blew their gaskets every game.
That seems to be where he’s stuck, Jim.
Obi’s parents recently went on Dell and Sonya Curry’s podcast, “Raising Fame,” and said they’d love him to play for Golden State. If you want to see Obi succeed, he might need an on-court general like Draymond Green. With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson also taking up so much of the defense’s attention, Obi might be able to sneak away for his patented dunks and line up some wide-open threes.
For the Knicks? He’s likely stuck behind Julius Randle, contributing to a terrible defensive front court (aside from the wildcat stylings of Mitchell Robinson). He’ll also get a crash course in what it’s like to have no space to create and no shooters to kick to. The Knicks will be laughed out the league, Obi will be labeled a bust, certain folks in the media will say they knew the Knicks would be too stupid to take the obvious talent that some other team took much later in the draft, even though however many teams also passed on that player, whoever it is.
In summation: Obi Toppin? More like, “Yo, B. Not him.”