It’s truly a shame that it took this long for New York Knicks fans to get what they wanted. After the Knicks lost to the Hawks on Tuesday night and erased their play-in tournament hopes, New York played one of its most exciting games of the season. For the second-straight night, Tom Thibodeau started 24-year-old Obi Toppin.
Why did Toppin start? Well, Julius Randle has been out for the past two games with a sore right quad. Against Atlanta, Toppin started for the third time since he had been drafted by the Knicks No. 8 overall in the 2020 draft.
The forward scored 10 points (5-of-7) and pulled down seven rebounds in 24 minutes versus the Hawks. That was the most that Toppin had played since he logged 45 minutes against the Raptors on Jan. 2.
Toppin’s success carried over to the second half of New York’s back-to-back on Wednesday night in Charlotte. He posted 18 points (8-of-11 from the field, 2-of-4 from the 3-point line), 11 rebounds, six assists, one block, and one steal in 40 minutes.
Obi Toppin’s recent play with Knicks highlights Tom Thibodeau’s main issue.
We all remember how glorious last season felt. In his rookie year, Toppin played behind Randle, who earned the first All-Star nod of his career and led the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13.
While there was plenty of hype about Toppin being a lottery pick, he became a Knick right before Randle had his breakout season. That’s understandably limited Toppin’s playing time and this isn’t to say that he should start over Randle, but there’s no real reason why Toppin hasn’t been playing around 20 minutes per game.
Or, there might be a reason. You could consider Thibodeau’s infamous “you have to earn your minutes” response when he’s asked about New York’s younger players to be a reason why Toppin hasn’t consistently played. However, that doesn’t make sense, especially given how the Dayton product has performed the past two nights.
As soon as the Knicks secure a defensive rebound, Toppin’s already halfway down the court running in transition. One of the reasons why New York beat Charlotte was because the team stayed on their toes and played at a quick pace.
While Toppin’s dunks were a bonus on Wednesday night, the most surprising part of his stat line was his six assists. The Knicks’ ball movement was at its peak and he played a role in that. It’s sort of bittersweet to think about where Toppin would be if he had been consistently playing this year.
He’s averaging 7.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in the 63 games that he’s played in, while also shooting 52% from the field.
There’s no dire need for Randle to return sometime during New York’s final nine games of the season, especially if his injury has been lingering for a while (like Thibodeau said). The Knicks don’t want to risk his health and it’d also be great to get to continue to see more of Toppin.
I’d like to think that Thibodeau’s gotten the memo that Toppin has earned more playing time, but knowing him, you never know.
Thibodeau will likely be back next year as the head coach, and if that happens, let’s hope that Toppin will be a regular face in the rotation. It’d be a disservice to him if he wasn’t.