Knicks: Mapping out how Obi Toppin can develop his defense

NY Knicks, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
NY Knicks, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images) /
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NY Knicks, Obi Toppin
NY Knicks, Obi Toppin (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images) /

Looking at some NBA examples for how New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin can develop his defensive game.

New York Knicks’ forward Obi Toppin can make great strides on defense this season. Too often, both fans and writers have much more patience attached to a player’s development on offense, as opposed to their development on defense. Defense is often characterized as a test of will and effort, and yet, the nuances of NBA coverages and the speed of the game can pose quite a challenge for any rookie, regardless of age.

However, if you’re a fan that has preached patience for Frank Ntilikina’s shot, and/or his ability to finish at the rim, then you need to do the same with Toppin’s defense. And yes, I understand that their age difference matters, but Toppin’s offensive potential alone makes him a more attractive building block.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau takes a drill-like approach towards game planning for opposing teams. His attention to detail and reputation as a perfectionist has already made an impression on his players. Just ask Elfrid Payton.

After a recent practice, Payton praised Thibs and maybe threw some shade at his coach’s response to mistakes during practice. Payton explained,

"“As far as Thibs, he’s definitely detail-oriented,” Payton said (via Newsday). “We’ll do something 100 times if he feels we’re not doing something right. The game-planning coming back after playing Cleveland, after watching film on them and kind of knowing what they were going to do, it really showed a big difference in the second game.”"

Toppin’s work ethic has never been questioned. And according to Dayton assistant coach Ricardo Greer, head coach Anthony Grant “held him accountable”. As a result, it’s reasonable to expect that Thibs’ defensive acumen and attention to detail, coupled with Toppin’s raw athletic skill can lead to a positive defensive result for the Knicks.

That being said, it’s going to take time. And if you’ve looked at any tape regarding Toppin’s defense, it doesn’t take long for the eye test to show you that his learning curve will be steep. Toppin’s pick-and-roll defense is poor, and he struggles to stay in front of guards/forwards when switched onto the perimeter. But the path for Toppin to become a serviceable defender in the NBA has already been chartered by two current NBA bigs.