Toppin ‘a lot better’ as second season in NBA begins

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Obi Toppin interview (July 20, 2021)

Former Dayton star hopes for increased playing time with Knicks

Obi Toppin’s second season in the NBA with the New York Knicks begins this week with great promise but also a big question: How many minutes will the former Dayton Flyers star get this season?

As a rookie, one season removed from being the consensus national player of the year at Dayton, Toppin averaged 11 minutes per game. In four preseason games this month, he saw 19.2 minutes of action per game. That’s an improved number but still eighth most on the team, counting players who appeared in at least three preseason games.

When Toppin returned to Dayton last summer, he talked about his high hopes for his second season in the NBA. He told reporters in New York similar things earlier this month, saying he knew he had to improve his game in the offseason. Much of that work took place at the Knicks’ practice facility.

“Coming in here every single day this summer, that was my motivation,” Toppin said. “Come in and just be better than what you were last year.”

Explore» PHOTOS: Obi Toppin at Pro Camp in Beavercreek

The Knicks open the season against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Toppin got valuable experience playing for the USA Select Team against the men’s national team as it prepared for the Tokyo Olympics in Las Vegas, Nev., in July. He put up big numbers with the Knicks in the NBA Summer League. He ranked fourth in the league in scoring (21.0 points per game in six games) among all players who appeared in at least four games and 15th in rebounding (8.3).

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Highlights: Obi Toppin Basketball ProCamp on July 20, 2021

On Monday, the Knicks exercised their third-year rookie option on Toppin. That means he’ll earn $5,348,280 next season. He earned $4,862,040 as a rookie, according to Spotrac.com, and he’ll make $5,105,160 this season. He signed a a four-year, $22.1 million contract after the Knicks drafted him eighth overall in 2020.

Toppin’s chances of playing a bigger role this season rest with his coach Tom Thibodeau, who in his first season guided the Knicks to a 41-31 record, their first winning season in eight years. Earlier this month, Thibodeau told reporters Toppin has gotten a lot better.

“He’s put a lot of extra time in,” Thibodeau said, “but I think more than anything, it’s probably the experience. I thought last year was difficult in some ways for him because of not really having the summer league, a fall, where you can grow into it. And he’s one of those guys that with repetition, he gets a lot more confident.”

Toppin averaged 9.5 points while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor in the preseason and averaged 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He started one preseason game against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 9 and had 13 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes.

“I think the game has slowed down a little bit,” Thibodeau said. “I like the way he played offensively. He wasn’t rushing at all and made good decisions. And he’s skilled.”

Explore» PHOTOS: Toppin's rookie season

Toppin did have some big moments last season despite his small role and showed improvement after the all-star break. In his team’s only playoff victory, he scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds as the Knicks rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat the Atlanta Hawks 101-92 at Madison Square Garden in Game 2 of their first-round series.

Toppin’s minutes were limited in part last season because he played behind Julius Randle, one of the most improved players in the NBA. The Knicks experimented with having both players on the court at the same time in the preseason.

“It wasn’t very effective last year,” Thibodeau said, “but Obi is a lot better than he was a year ago, and Julius just continues to get better and better. We’ll see how it unfolds.”

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