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Rookie Obi Toppin's minutes have been shrinking with Knicks

Knicks forward Obi Toppin scores past Spurs guard

Knicks forward Obi Toppin scores past Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV, left, during the second half of an NBA game in San Antonio on March 2, 2021. Credit: AP/Eric Gay

Alas, Obi Toppin’s most impressive move as a rookie didn’t come while playing a game for the Knicks.

The highlight of Toppin’s first year in the league came at halftime of the All-Star Game when he executed a perfect windmill dunk over Julius Randle and his father, Obadiah Toppin. The dunk was an impressive fan-pleaser, even though it didn’t win the contest.

Knicks fans would love to see some equally spectacular move during the course of the regular season, but Toppin hasn’t gotten that much of a chance given that he is playing behind Randle, who is having his best season as a pro.

Toppin, the NCAA Player of the Year last season at Dayton, was considered more than NBA-ready given that he was 22 when the Knicks took him with their lottery pick. Yet as the season goes on, Toppin’s playing time is declining instead of rising. Heading into Thursday’s game against the Magic at Madison Square Garden, Toppin has played three straight games in which he appeared in nine minutes or fewer.

"My minutes going down did not discourage me at all," Toppin said Thursday before the Knicks faced Orlando. "It’s just something that’s telling me I gotta push even harder every single day, get extra time in the gym and the weight room and just get better and learn every single day. There’s always opportunities to learn."

There may be some solid reasons for Toppin’s recent struggles. In addition to playing behind Randle, who leads the NBA in minutes, Toppin performed better with the second unit when Derrick Rose was on the floor. Rose missed his eighth straight game Thursday because of health and safety protocols.

Coach Tom Thibodeau is confident that his rookie will continue to improve.

"It’s a big adjustment coming from college to the pros," Thibodeau said. "It’s a different game. He just had to keep working. The big thing is to learn. Everything is merit based, you have to earn what you get. His practices are critical. He’s doing a good job putting in the work and we are confident he is going to improve."

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