Cover photo and photos in article from Griffin Quinn
Sports Staff Writer
Four years ago, the NBA seemed out of reach for then 6’5 Obi Toppin who played only one year of varsity basketball as a senior in Ossinger, New York. He received no Division I offers and instead enrolled at Mt. Zion Prep for a postgrad year.
Now, after a record-breaking season, Toppin is a legitimate top-5 pick. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is a 1st round selection, but the highflying forward has forced NBA teams to consider taking him with one of the top picks in the draft.
Toppin has been awarded about every individual accolade possible while at UD. He is the winner of the 2020 AP National Player of the Year (2020), Oscar Robertson Trophy (2020), Consensus first-team All-American (2020), Atlantic 10 Player of the Year (2020), 2× First-team All-Atlantic 10 (2019, 2020), Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year (2019) and Naismith Award (2020). He is also a frontrunner for the Wooden Award.
Although illustrious, Toppin doesn’t want to let his college success define him. He has much more to prove at the professional level, and has every right to believe that he is a top talent entering the draft.
Toppin’s 20 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 2.2 apg are all improvements from his previous season. He also averaged 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes last year. While looking at stats can be telling, Toppin’s upside goes far beyond the numbers.
Obi’s crazy ability was on display for the whole nation to see this year. His collection of wildly athletic dunks is what caught the eye of basketball fans everywhere, but there are far more things that make him enticing to NBA front offices.
The way that Toppin runs the floor is impressive for a big man, and it’s something that matches all-star bigs of the NBA. He is a great rim runner and routinely hustles in transition on breakouts when he doesn’t grab the rebound. This allows him to get down to the offensive, seal his defender and get easy dunks and layups early in the shot clock. One of the NBA’s best bigs in transition is Anthony Davis. Similar to Toppin, he works to run the floor and his long wingspan allows for guards to hit him out of the reach of defenders.
Toppin also loves to screen in transition. This causes shaky defensive switches and allows for some opportune slip screens directly to the bucket.
If you’re a pass-first guard in the NBA, there is no player in the draft this year that will elevate your game more than Obi.
Toppin has drawn many comparisons to Amare Stoudamire with the way he sets ball screens where he simply bumps the defender and rolls quickly. Guards can just throw the ball somewhere around the rim and know that Obi will rotate off his ball screen and adjust in midair.
It seems like the pick and roll was designed for a player like Toppin. For one, he sets great screens. On a switch, he rolls and seals smaller guards to work in the post or to bully his way directly to the basket. If the guard fights the screen and doesn’t switch, he is fast enough to beat the opposite big most of the time. He can also pop out on loose coverage as a deep threat. If the defense is hedging high and tries to jump the screen, he slips straight inside for a potential open lane.
Something that coach Anthony Grant utilized a lot with Toppin in college was the dribble hand off. He is great with the ball in his hands in this scenario– he can give it up and screen, he can slip the dribble handoff and get to the rim or he can handoff and open up for a 3. This may be even more effective in the NBA because of the extra space on the floor.
When teams double-team Toppin in the post, he uses a drag dribble to draw them further away from help position and proceeds to zip passes across the court over defenders heads thanks to his height advantage.
This is also affected by his wingspan. Toppin can make swing passes from the post to the opposite corner or even to the wing because he can outreach a defender’s outstretched arm trying to deter a pass. If he doesn’t have a size advantage in the post, he uses quick spin moves to open up passes or, many times, scoring opportunities.
Something within his game he clearly improved this past season was his decision making. By the end of the year, his patience was visible and he was always looking to unlock the defense rather than force a shot or pass. He slashes to the basket from the outside when he sees a teammate doubled, and he is constantly finding cutters when the defense is in a scramble.
Toppin’s passing ability is a huge advantage he holds over other big men entering the draft. James Wiseman, a seven footer out of Memphis, has all the size and power needed to become a dominant rebounder and inside presence, but lacks the vision that Obi has. Similarly, Onyeka Okongwu from USC is another traditional big with strength and inside play, but is the same height as Toppin and is rarely impactful outside of the paint.
Toppin, on the other hand, has less power to his game but is more versatile. What he lacks in force he makes up for in other areas. He has proven he can score both inside and outside, and his playmaking ability only continues to grow. And although his inside game is different than a powerful big, he can use both hands to pass and score and has far more agility than someone who is 6’9 should have.
Returning to Dayton gave Obi a chance to polish some skills that would set him apart in this year’s draft. Both his ball handling and footwork still need some refining, but they are clearly parts of his game that he has continued to work on. Toppin has the potential to become a shot blocker because of his wingspan and vertical, but he still has trouble guarding on the outside and again, he’s far less physical than the typical NBA big man.
Overall, Obi Toppin is undoubtedly one of the 2020 NBA draft’s most thrilling players. There is a chance for a highlight every time he touches the ball. He was one of, if not the most, electrifying players this past year in college basketball. His vicious dunks and energetic play are enough to make him a fan favorite. The question isn’t whether Toppin will transform the team that drafts him, but rather which team he will land with to make his impact.