Evaluating Obi Toppin’s NBA future

UD men’s basketball standout and 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year Obi Toppin is a certain lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft, which will take place Oct. 15. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta, Flyer News.

Luc Almeda
Assistant Sports Editor

Obi Toppin’s NBA future became more visible after the NBA Draft Lottery was determined on Aug. 20. Topping is evaluated as a lottery pick by plenty of draft experts, and most think that he has top-10 pick potential. 

The 2020 draft is different from its predecessors in many ways. The obvious hindrance is the pandemic that has curbed any sort of normalcy that the regular sports world is used to. COVID-19 pushed back the dates of the end of the regular season, creating a domino effect that also moved the draft lottery, playoffs, draft, and the start of the next season. 

To continue with the virtual theme of summer 2020, the draft combine might happen online as well. The NBA’s bubble project has worked as well as the league hoped, but an in-person draft combine would call for another bubble experience or a risk that the league might not be willing to take.

A far less bizarre albeit a difference that the 2020 draft holds is the lack of a clear-cut No. 1 overall pick. Oftentimes, there is a consensus verdict around the league regarding who the best player in the draft is. 

This year, there isn’t a definite top pick, but there are a bunch of solid names across the board. Toppin lies within a shortlist of other players like LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Onyeka Okongwu, James Wiseman, Tyrese Haliburton, and numerous other players that made waves either in college or overseas last season. 

Every year prior to the draft, hundreds of mock drafts riddle the internet and predictions are cast about where top players will land when all is said and done. This year, Toppin’s name has been sprinkled near the top of some of the NBA’s most respected sites. 

NBC Sports – No. 2 to Golden State

This could be best-case-scenario for Obi, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Warriors used the second pick on college basketball’s best player. They are in a position to win now, and evidently have won three of the last five NBA titles while making an appearance all five. They might not want to spend the time and take the risk to develop Toppin, but he fits their needs perfectly. They are set at their guard spots, added Andrew Wiggins to be a presence at small forward, and still have Draymond Green as a purely defensive forward. If they drafted Toppin to play center, they would continue their small-ball style that has contributed to their dominance over the last half decade, but it is a risk that they might not need to take. They could even trade the No. 2 pick for a league-tested center.

CBS Sports – No. 4 to Chicago

For a team that is underway in their front-to-back rebuild, Toppin could be a centerpiece for the Bulls. They could desperately use a go-to scorer, and Toppin proved at Dayton that he can be the guy when it comes to running the offense through a player. Zach LaVine broke through and had his best season yet, and Coby White looks like a promising scoring point guard. Toppin might be more geared to a pass-first backcourt, which LaVine and White are not. He would also be competing for time against Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, Jr., but his play-style is completely different from theirs. If Chicago took Obi at No. 4, they would be choosing a new player to build their team around.

SBNation – No. 5 to Cleveland

Much like Chicago, Toppin would be an integral piece in the Cavaliers future if they were to take him with their lottery pick. After a strange 2019-2020 season, the Cavs are going to be looking for whatever bit of stability they can get from this year’s draft. The new-look team drafted two guards with their last two first round picks, and added two new pieces in Andre Drummond and Jordan Bell at the end of last season. While they still have their two veteran big men in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, they might try to ditch them this offseason in favor of a younger core. Toppin could fill in the gap that the two would leave, and a strong young core of three top-10 picks in the last three years would headline Cleveland. 

Other potential landing spots:

No. 6 to Atlanta – The Hawks are another team that have begun a system rebuild, but they have already found their marquee player in Trae Young. Since Young is a do-it-all guard, Toppin could fit in as the number two scoring option behind him. They did, however, make a trade for center Clint Capela who fits with the Hawks’ pick-and-roll offense, and their other young players in Cam Reddish, John Collins and Kevin Huerter are just beginning to find their roles.

No. 8 to New York – Although it seems like the Knicks have been in a rebuild for the past two decades, they might be in a good position to make a scoring addition. Their roster is full of positionless players like RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox, and they have a young duo at the point guard spot with Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikinta. What New York really needs is a veteran presence, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they ended up trading their pick. 

Our editors’ picks:

Luc – Obi’s huge scoring presence seems like a perfect fit for the Bulls. Coby White could act as a major facilitator, and Toppin would work well in the pick-and-roll scenario with him. He would add to a young, rebuilding roster that would compliment his skillset well. A few creating guards in White and LaVine would work well with his ultra-efficient scoring, and Wendell Carter, Jr. could act as a rim-protecting partner to aid in what Toppin lacks in defensive presence.

Peter – While the Warriors would be the best fit for Toppin, adding to the Splash Brothers, Draymond Green, and Anthony Wiggins, NBA teams may be hesitant to draft him so high due to the supposed “lack of competition” in the A10. Because Anthony Edwards, Lamelo Ball and James Wiseman seem likely to go 1-2-3, I agree with Luc that the Bulls grab Toppin at No. 4. Along with LaVine and Carter, Chicago could become Dunk City, as LaVine and Carter combined for 161 dunks in a shortened 2019-20 season, while Toppin threw down 107 in UD’s thrilling 29-2 season. I second Luc’s analysis regarding how Toppin would fit in with a young roster and a team that hasn’t seen an improvement in wins since the 2014-15 season (48 to 50) but was on pace to surpass their 22-win 2018-19 season (already on 22 wins before the NBA shutdown happened). 

I certainly wouldn’t be shocked, though, if the Warriors grab him at No. 2.

     This year’s NBA draft will be memorable for more reasons than not, but the factor that might make it stick out in Flyer memories is that Obi Toppin could go down as Dayton’s highest drafted player in the school’s history. Toppin’s eccentric style and ferocious athleticism will surely make him a fan favorite wherever he ends up.

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