ATLANTA — Obi Toppin had not quite shown the talent that the Knicks hoped to see earlier this season, but there were signs it was coming. Then a fractured right fibula shut him down for a month, leaving him to try to work his way back.
Now, with Mitchell Robinson sidelined for an extended stretch, there are minutes to be had, but there also is uncertainty about whether Toppin will be the one to benefit as he tries to shake the rust off his game.
Before the injury, Toppin was averaging 17 minutes per game and shooting 42.1% from the field, including 35.1% from beyond the arc. But entering Friday night’s game against the Hawks, in the six games since his return, he had averaged 10.7 minutes and shot 22.2% overall and 30% from three-point range while taking only three shots per game. So what’s gone wrong?
“I don’t know,” Toppin said before scoring seven points in 16:24 Friday. “Just confidence? Shoot the ball when I have open shots, drive the ball when I have to drive the ball. Just play great basketball . . . It’s just more repetitions in the game, just having the opportunity to shoot some shots in the game, get a touch again. I feel like once I get that touch — like I’m shooting well in practice, I’m shooting well here, it’s just in the game, having those game looks, finding that rhythm again.
“I don’t feel like I’m going to force anything when I’m in the game. I’m just going to let the game come to me. Like I said, whatever the coaches need me to do, I’m going to do.”
It seems as if something has been lost with the injury. There certainly can be some truth to needing to touch the ball more in the schemes of Tom Thibodeau. But Toppin said it’s not any lingering effects of the injury but just a need to adjust how he is playing the game, returning to more running and cutting to the rim.
“I feel like I’m going to get back to that,” he said. “I’m going to do things on the court that either open things up for everybody else or find me open looks. I’ve got to do little things that are going to help the team be successful.”
While Toppin won’t be filling in for Robinson, he could find more time on the floor if the Knicks utilize a lineup with Julius Randle shifted to center.
“Whatever they need me to do, I’m just going out there and doing, whether that’s scoring, rebounding, defense,” Toppin said. “Anything I can do to help the team, I’m going to do. It’s whatever Coach decides, though. Whatever he decides I’m cool with and I’m just going to do my job.”