New York Knicks: Obi Toppin facing a critical juncture

Obi Toppin, New York Knicks. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Obi Toppin, New York Knicks. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images /

Obi Toppin has never broken through the way expected of an NBA Draft lottery pick. That’s not entirely his fault. But the New York Knicks forward has a big opportunity in front of him, one that comes from heartbreak in the Big Apple.

Late in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Miami Heat, Julius Randle was forced to exit with an ankle injury. The star wasn’t able to return to the winning effort.

The ankle injury proved to be a sprain. Not worst case scenario, but not something Randle is going to play through at this point in the season. He’s set to be reevaluated in two weeks, all but ruling him out of a regular season return.

With Julius Randle out for at least two weeks, this is a big moment for Obi Toppin to step up for the New York Knicks.

Coach Tom Thibodeau can address the Randle injury in many ways. One expected solution is to try some small ball tactics with Josh Hart in the lineup; he has been a major part of the team’s success since coming over at the trade deadline.

No matter how Thibodeau tinkers, there’s no world where Toppin doesn’t absorb some of Randle’s minutes. If Toppin wants to play a significant part in the Knicks’ playoff rotation and alter his future outlook, these next few games are the perfect chance to do so.

The former eighth overall pick doesn’t typically get a lot of run from Thibodeau, which has been a talking point in New York since Toppin was taken in the 2020 draft. He’s only averaged 14.4 minutes per game, though he has played more in each of the last two: a blowout over the Houston Rockets and the game where Randle was injured.

For the year, the bouncy baller is averaging 6.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. His shooting has been particularly disappointing, hitting less than 33 percent of his threes and barely dragging his career percentage up.

Since Toppin isn’t proving to be much of a three-point shooter, despite continuing to get a green light from the coaching staff, the team should try to employ him more in the pick-and-roll. His burst off of those plays could be a weapon and his ability to leap and attack the offensive glass could be helpful as well.

In comments after Randle’s injury, Thibodeau noted it would take a collective approach to replace Randle, rather than one person (H/T SNY). He mentioned his confidence in Toppin, but also brought up Hart and Jericho Sims to play the four.

There’s been no public acrimony between Thibodeau and Toppin over the years, but it’s been a common criticism among the Knicks faithful that the coach hasn’t given his young player enough of a leash. Now he may not have a choice.

If Toppin can spend these next few weeks proving that he deserves more playing time, perhaps he has a future in the Big Apple. If not, a break between Toppin and the Knicks may be in the offing shortly.

Before the season, the Knicks picked up the fourth-year option on Toppin’s contract, so he should get at least one more season with the team. Roster continuity is a growing priority for the franchise, though he could always be dealt during the offseason if he’s not seen as a key piece to the team’s future.

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What happens with Obi Toppin’s future could be based on what happens over the next two weeks. It’s time for him to show the New York Knicks – and more specifically, coach Tom Thibodeau – what he can do.