New York Knicks: Why Obi Toppin is primed to win Rookie of the Year

Obi Toppin, Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Obi Toppin, Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Obi Toppin might be the best young player the New York Knicks have drafted in a while.

Obi Toppin may not be the lone bright spot for the New York Knicks‘ future, but he sure has been exciting to watch thus far.

Over the years, Knicks fans have managed to hold out hope for their team without much of a return on investment. They don’t do a whole lot of winning, and when they do, they generally don’t do it for very long. New York hasn’t won a championship in almost 50 years, haven’t been to the finals since 1999, and on top of all that, it’s nearing almost 10 years since they’ve even sniffed the playoffs. The last homegrown All-Star level player the organization has drafted was traded for what seems like peanuts so far, and yet, as fans, we still remain hopeful for our beloved Knickerbockers to turn it around.

Here and now is where I believe the tides begin to change. With a new regime leading the charge, a new front office making savvy decisions to benefit the short and long-term prospects of the organization, and a foundation of players such as RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin to build on, the future is glowing.

Rookie of the Year

The last time the Knicks had a Rookie of the Year winner was back in 1988 when Mark Jackson ran the offense. Quite frankly, that may be the last time we had a well above average player running the point for the Knickerbockers.

As it stands, oddsmakers have LaMelo Ball as the favorite to win ROY, with Obi as a close second-place contender. Even with limited minutes off the bench, Obi has shown he can produce and shine while doing so. Through 4 preseason games, he has demonstrated the uncanny ability to score the ball, but that’s where his bread has always been buttered. In order to improve his chances of winning NBA accolades over LaMelo, he’s going to have to stuff the stat sheet in more than just the points-per-game column.

Offering more than just scoring

I’ve been overly impressed with several facets of Toppin’s game outside of just scoring so far. His offensive awareness and basketball IQ are well before his time, as he’s shown incredible playmaking ability and excels at finding the open shooter off the drive. More times than I can count, I’ve watched him unselfishly dish the rock to the open man when he’s well defended at the basket. Sometimes a player does that due to a lack of confidence in his own abilities, but with Obi, he tends to make the correct reads at the right time.

Once Toppin is granted starting minutes, there’s no doubt in my mind that he can average somewhere between 8-10 rebounds per game as a rookie. Obi may not be elite on the boards as David Lee once was, but his game reminds me that of Lee, as he’s always in the right place at the right time. What I’m most enamored by are the things that don’t show up as stats — the man is a hustler. He’ll fight for a rebound, realize it’s not his to have, and tip it off to a teammate. His freak athleticism allows him to come from left field for a block or go flying, sacrificing life and limb to save a ball from going out of bounds.

Lastly, I’ve been saying that Toppin reminds me of Blake Griffin with a jumper since before the Knicks drafted him. He’s accumulated a full highlight reel of mind-blowing dunks already, and the regular season hasn’t even started. One of the faults Blake had in his early years was that he seemed to play at 110% speed at all times and that once he figured out how to slow the game down for himself a bit, he would become a star. I think Obi has a better grip on the game than Blake did as a rookie, so waiting for him to break barriers and fulfill similar potential shouldn’t take very long at all.  Also, if there’s one thing that bodes well for Knicks Nation and our overall brand, it’s having a guy who can both compete and win a dunk contest or two, and Obi certainly should do both in short order.

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If the Knicks’ front-office can facilitate a Julius Randle trade similar to the “Mook” Morris move at the deadline last year, where they dumped him off to a contender for either a pick, it would give the keys of the 4-spot to Obi, and Rookie of the Year honors would become his to lose.