New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin has yet to be fully unleashed this season. There are several reasons for that, tops among them being the Knicks have an NBA All-Star at his position in Julius Randle.
Julius Randle has been the driving force behind the Knicks resurgence this season. The team cannot afford to sit him out for long periods, so Toppin picks up whatever minutes are left behind him. Toppin also had some poor injury luck.
The former Dayton Flyer was injured in his first career regular-season game. That put him further behind the eight-ball as the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out NBA Summer League and shortened training camp, integral parts of a rookie’s introduction into the NBA.
Slowly but surely, Toppin has been gaining confidence on the court. It looked like he would have a chance for an expanded role when the starting center, Mitchell Robinson, suffered a fractured hand, which needs a multi-week recovery.
People had hoped that Toppin would slide over to the center spot, as he did in college. Or, he would pick up minutes with Julius Randle covering at center a little bit. However, head coach Tom Thibodeau put a damper on that, saying Toppin will be focusing on power forward right now.
While Toppin is itching to show what he can do in more minutes, he knows that Thibodeau has a plan in place and is confident in what he is doing.
“I feel like that’s the role I’m playing right now. Jules is playing very good basketball and we’re winning a lot of games,” Toppin said. “So coach is going to — he’s a great coach and he knows what he has to do to allow the team to win. I feel like me playing the position I’m playing in, it’s great because I’m getting to learn behind an All-Star.”
It is encouraging that Toppin can take a bigger picture outlook when it comes to his playing time. Some young players would be discouraged at the limited minutes he is receiving, but he is taking it in stride.
Thibodeau has done a wonderful job making the most of the roster he has. While they are lacking in talent in some spots, they are not lacking in effort. The Knicks play hard every night, which is a testament to Thibodeau and his staff.
Toppin is one of the players who are buying in, as he said he is starting to know his role when he steps on the court. He knows when Thibodeau is ready to call his number for a bigger role, he will be ready.
“When the time comes to step on the court especially with Jules, coach is never going to put us in a position to fail,” Toppin said. “If he throws us in the mix of me and Jules being in the frontcourt together we’ll get the job done and do it well.”
Toppin is oozing with confidence, which will help him when he does see his role increase. The game is beginning to slow down for him and he is improving every time he steps on the court. If he keeps moving in the right direction, Thibodeau will have no choice but to give him more minutes.