New York Knicks: Why is Obi Toppin struggling so far?

Obi Toppin, New York Knicks (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Obi Toppin, New York Knicks (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

When the New York Knicks drafted Obi Toppin with the 8th overall pick in last year’s draft and he was viewed as a player who would have an immediately big impact.

He was the Naismith basketball Player of the Year for Dayton and was a 22-year-old prospect.

Most scouts had some reservations about Toppin but they believed he would put up solid numbers in his rookie year.

Bleacher Report gave Toppin the second-highest odds to win the rookie of the year award, and my colleague Brad Dressler here at Daily Knicks explored the possibility as well, yet through 21 games he’s averaging just 5 points and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes per game as this is being written.

Obi Toppin isn’t playing as well as we thought he would in his first season with the New York Knicks. How can he improve?

Toppin has produced some flashes this year but he hasn’t had as strong a start that many thought he would. I thought he would shine in Mitch’s absence, but so far it hasn’t looked promising.

Toppin has shown in his rookie year that he’s a great vertical athlete and a capable 3 point shooter but he’s struggled mightily to create offense for himself and generate easy points.

There are two main issues with Obi Toppin this season. Firstly, he’s facing significantly better defenders than he faced while playing at Dayton. Secondly, he’s playing in an offensive system that is completely different than what he played in during his collegiate campaign.

In Dayton, he was a dominant post scorer. He was able to easily back down defenders to get close shots in the paint. But now, Toppin has simply been unable to back down defenders in the NBA as he did in college.

He’s got a high center of gravity which makes it difficult for him to post up, so when he tries to back down defenders, he rarely gets a favorable position in the post.

Furthermore, Toppin doesn’t have any explosion off the dribble. He was able to drive by defenders at Dayton but he simply doesn’t have a quick first step against NBA defenders. When Toppin tries to beat defenders off the dribbles on the baseline he always ends up going out of bounds. Toppin has looked extremely overwhelmed trying to score in isolation in the NBA.

In his final year at Dayton, Toppin averaged 20 points per game on a super-efficient 63% shooting.

In college, he was surrounded by good passers and four other 3 point shooters on the offensive end. Dayton ran tons of plays each game to maximize Obi Toppin’s abilities as a catch and finisher, especially as a roll man out of the pick and roll.

Toppin’s team also got out in transition a lot.

In Dayton, Toppin knew to immediately run hard down court after a rebound which led to him getting a lot of fast-break dunks. Dayton had an ideal system in place that maximized Toppin’s strengths on offense.

The Knicks are not playing Toppin in a similar system to what he had in college. Instead of being surrounded by shooters, Toppin is always playing with another rim running big man and the Knicks play at the league’s slowest pace.

Obi Toppin rarely gets opportunities to score in transition and in the Knicks’ half-court offense he’s being used as more of a stretch 4. Because of the completely different circumstances with the Knicks, Toppin’s transition from college basketball to the NBA has not been smooth.

So what do Obi Toppin’s struggles mean for his future in the NBA?

While Toppin is struggling, he can still turn into a very good player but he’s definitely way more of a project than many people previously thought.

He needs to use the upcoming offseason to improve his outside shooting. He’s shooting 29% from 3 this year for the Knicks and while that’s not a terrible percentage for a rookie, in order to be a legitimate stretch big, he needs to shoot his 3 pointers at least 35%.

Obi Toppin also needs to get in better shape and develop a stronger handle for creating his own shot. He may not have a quick first step but developing some go-to moves like a crossover and an in and out dribble would help him get by defenders more easily.

The Knicks can also get Toppin in better positions to score by running more plays for him. Toppin has rarely been used in pick and roll scenarios so far this season.

Putting Toppin in more situations where he can score as the roll man would lead to him scoring more points, plain and simple.

Furthermore, the Knicks need to start playing at a faster pace. Toppin always hustles hard down the court but the Knicks guards usually miss him for fast-break opportunities.

Obi Toppin is struggling but if the Knicks play to his strengths more and if he develops his game he can still turn into a very good player.

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