Obi Toppin sees breakout success with Julius Randle sidelined

Knicks forward Obi Toppin dunks the ball against the Washington Wizards.
Knicks forward Obi Toppin dunks the ball against the Washington Wizards.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Knicks forward Obi Toppin has caught fire in recent games, finally showing fans the flashes of brilliance they’ve been hoping for from the second-year big man. 

The 24-year-old came to the Knicks as the 8th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft with sky-high expectations, but a disappointing freshman season and a lackluster start this year left observers deflated.

Now, that is changing. 

Toppin’s increased production to close out the season comes as he’s seen a significant uptick in playing time, largely due to a season-ending injury to fellow power forward Julius Randle. 

[READ ALSO: Obi Toppin will get his chance after Randle injury]

Randle and Toppin share many similarities on the court, which has made it difficult to give Toppin enough minutes to let his game develop. Now, with Randle sidelined, Toppin has seen 28.7 minutes of playtime each contest over the previous 10 games, compared with just 16.8 per game on the season. 

“I definitely feel a little bit more relaxed now, knowing that I’m not coming out if I make a mistake,” Toppin said after scoring a career-high 35 points on April 8. “Having that opportunity is helping me a lot.”

And Toppin has made the most of his newfound minutes. 

Over the last 10 games, the 24-year-old has averaged 16.8 points, which is significantly higher than his 6.5 points per game he’s averaged throughout his still-young NBA career. 

The Brooklyn-native has also seen significant improvement in other facets of his game, averaging 2.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds during that stretch. 

Toppin’s breakout success has earned him praise from his teammates and coaches, who have highlighted his efficiency and effort on the court.

“A guy that can also score without needing to have the ball in his hands — that’s always a guy you want to play with,” said fellow Knicks youngster RJ Barrett.

“He’s a great guy. He’s a very positive, high energy, up-beat guy,” said coach Tom Thibodeau. “Everyone loves Obi…When he walks into the gym, he’s got energy. He walks onto the bus, he’s got energy — and the team can feed off that.” 

So, while the team will finish this season with a losing record and miss out on playoff contention, the core of Toppin, along with 21-year-old Barret and 22-year-old Immanuel Quickley, form a solid foundation of young talent, and give the Knicks options, and a glimmer of hope, for the future.