Austin Rivers hasn’t spent a lot of time around Knicks rookie Obi Toppin. But Toppin has already left a strong impression on the veteran guard.
“Obi Toppin is beyond a freak athlete, like beyond a freak athlete,” Rivers said on Wednesday. “He’s going to be really good. I obviously didn’t get to play against him last year but just seeing him in here, my God.”
Toppin’s athleticism is one of the reasons teams considered him a high lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Toppin was one of the best offensive players in college basketball last season, blending solid perimeter shooting with an aggressive approach at the rim.
The Knicks were considering trading up on draft night to land Toppin. But when Cleveland took Isaac Okoro, Toppin was available at No. 8. Leon Rose & Co. jumped at the opportunity to draft him, passing on point guards available at that spot.
Toppin is just days into his NBA career, but it’s worth noting that his conditioning and athleticism has impressed some people at early workouts.
One observer said Toppin has performed at franchise-record levels in some agility, conditioning and athleticism drills/measurements.
Maybe that’s what Rivers was referencing when he said the 22-year-old Toppin was ‘beyond a freak athlete.’
The Knicks obviously hope that Toppin’s athleticism translates well to the NBA. Tom Thibodeau
Thibodeau hinted at that when he spoke about Toppin earlier this week.
“His energy, his skill set, his ability to shoot — I think offensively he’s about as ready as a young guy can be coming into the league,” the head coach said.
Thibodeau acknowledged that Toppin, like most young players, has to improve on the defensive end.
“But we think he’s a great fit for what we’re looking to do,” Thibodeau said. If Toppin’s results in drills/testing is any indication, his athleticism may be an asset on the defensive end of the floor.
I wouldn’t overanalyze Thibodeau’s answer, but it seems reasonable to at least conclude that the starting center spot is an open competition. The Knicks also signed Nerlens Noel to a one-year deal last month.
“I think he’s had some really good moments. But I think he’s got a long way to go,” Thibodeau said of Mitchell Robinson. “The work part, the professionalism to continue to grow to impact winning, there’s a lot of room for growth. I think the discipline to practice well each and every day. I’m excited about having him here where we can get work with him each and every day. I don’t know where he’ll end up. I hate to compare him to anyone. There’s things he can do that are very unique.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have Nerlens Noel. In some ways, he’s very similar when you look at rim protection. I think he was second in the league. I also believe he was in the top five in finishing. We’re excited about both guys.”