When the season began, what Obi Toppin noticed about the NBA game was the speed, the non-stop frenetic pace and the split-second decisions. But for much of his rookie season, Toppin has looked like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. His athleticism and speed have been held in check as he tries to learn the Knicks’ system.
The No. 8 overall pick has not delivered the sort of numbers that might have been expected from someone who just won the NCAA Player of the Year award. An injury slowed his progress, and playing behind Julius Randle has limited his opportunities. He has had only one double-figures scoring performance in 16 games.
But on Tuesday in Miami, Toppin entered the game with the second unit and for the first time was paired with fellow rookie Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose, who had just arrived in a trade.
The numbers for Toppin — four points and one rebound in 11 minutes — were nothing to indicate a change. It wasn’t much different from what had preceded it. There were small hints, though, as it was the first game in the last four that he actually got to the free-throw line.
That free throw came less than a minute into his appearance, as he drew a foul while dunking off a no-look pass from a driving Rose.
"He’s great," Toppin said. "First of all, when Derrick first came here, he talked to me and Quick and told us what it was. He’s the vet, he’s going to teach us his ways. We’re going to keep rolling. We’re going to work every single day to create a team.
"Having the opportunity to play on the court with him, he’s somebody I’ve watched my whole life and looked up to. He’s a great guy and a great player. Playing with him, he plays with speed. He looks to find guys. So playing with this team, period, is amazing, but Derrick, having him here now is amazing."
Can one play indicate a change in style or at least provide a blueprint for what Toppin can do if he is back as the rim-running threat he was at Dayton rather than a spot-up three-point shooter? He has attempted 29 shots from beyond the arc this season and just 36 from inside the three-point line.
Asked after Wednesday’s practice in Miami how Rose can help Toppin, coach Tom Thibodeau said, "A lot. Veteran leadership is one thing. He’s also a guy who can still play. He’s a former MVP. He’s been through the ups and downs of the NBA. His mental toughness to his ability to overcome adversity, all those things and experiences, and his willingness to share. And he’s always been that way.
"Even early in his career, he was the ultimate teammate. The most important thing was winning. Very unselfish guy, but just a guy that all his teammates loved playing with and loved being around. So I think there are veteran players that helped him along and now he wants to be that guy to the new guys that are coming in. So I think he can help all our guys. That includes the veterans.
"He’s been through a lot of experiences and he’s still hungry to learn and grow. He’s adapted, he’s added things to his game. He studies what the young guys are doing. He adds that to his game as well. He’s a great guy to be around. I think we’ll benefit from that.’’
Notes & quotes: The Wizards announced that Bradley Beal will not play against the Knicks on Friday (rest). Beal has missed only one game this season, but this is not a back-to-back situation. The Wizards played Wednesday, and after Friday's game, they are not scheduled to play again until Sunday afternoon.