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The Knicks need to utilize Obi Toppin more

The Knicks big man hasn’t gotten consistent minutes since entering the league in the 2020-21 season.

Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Obi Toppin’s time in New York hasn’t gone exactly as planned.

When the Knicks used the eighth pick on him in the 2020 NBA draft, the hope was for him become a starter and impact player. At the time of this writing, we are 173 games into Obi’s career and still uncertain of his long-term outlook. Playing only 14.5 minutes per game over three seasons, this was not what Knicks fans had in mind.

Coming into the league in 2020-21, it definitely didn’t help that Julius Randle would become an All-Star that season, his second with the Knicks. Randle was a revelation in New York, averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists en route to his first All-Star appearance. Toppin would see minutes here and there but nothing was ever consistent. A theme that is going on year three now.

Improved shooting:

An athletic big that can help space the floor, he has very quietly become a better shooter.

Here’s his three year three-point improvement:

2020-21: 26/85 (30.6%)

2021-22: 52-169 (30.8%)

2022-23: 44-119 (37%)

Jumping seven percent is pretty significant and he should cruise to a career high in three-pointers this season (If he gets minutes). This is a Knicks team that takes the ninth-most threes a game and shoots the sixth worst percentage. Toppin is not the most reliable option but he’s good enough and has 13 games this hitting at least two three-pointers. Although it may not sound like a lot, the Knicks have a plus two point differential this season. New York has had 18 games this season decided by six or less points, win or loss. If Toppin could come in and hit a few threes a game in a league that see a lot of close games, those points could factor huge at games end.

From the foul line he has hit 17-21 free throws, good for 81%.

He also can prove valuable as a rebounder. His per-36 minutes averages have him just under eight rebounds per game.

Strong end to 2021-22 season:

The Knicks forward had an awesome end to the 2021-22 season. Finally unleashed, Toppin averaged 27.2 points in 37.4 minutes per game over the final five games. Showing initiation and good shooting, it felt promising to see Obi play well and take something positive into next season. He scored 35 and 42 to finish the season, that talent is somewhere in there. This season he’s only seen 20+ minutes in a game seven times. Toppin likely will never see 35+ minutes on the Knicks but he should be seeing more than 15.

Experiment without Mitch:

Now that starting center Mitchell Robinson is out who plays 27 minutes a game, it should free up some playing time. Toppin has played ten minutes each in his last two games, scoring double digits in both. He is also a combined six of eight from three.

Going back to the thought of close games, the Knicks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, January 24th, by a score of 105-103. Toppin played 10 minutes, was a +12 and scored 11 points on two of three from three. It might’ve been small but those two shots and 11 points mattered in a close game. This is a player that scored 20 points his sophomore year at Dayton and has shown an ability to create winning plays.

With Mitchell Robinson injured, Tom Thibodeau should try new things. Throw Toppin out there for 30+ minutes one night, see what happens. Bumping his confidence might even allow a guy like Julius Randle to take a night off and not be burned out by the playoffs. The Knicks have this asset whittling away when he’s shown valuable and improvement.

At this point, trading the forward seems more likely than playing him consistently. It’s frustrating and maybe a new coach will give him time. He deserves the chance to show what he can do.