GREENBURGH, N.Y. — On the last day of the 2021-22 season, a season that many of the Knicks had already called off and sat out, Obi Toppin put together the sort of performance that so many fans had waited for and anticipated. Toppin poured in 42 points, setting social media ablaze with hopes that the team would clear the way — whatever it took — for him to shine this season.
But as training camp has opened up Julius Randle is still with the team and in Toppin's way in the starting lineup. Tom Thibodeau is still the coach despite the wishes of fans who blame him for not finding a way to get Toppin on the floor. And the only one who seems unbothered by all of this is Toppin himself. While the Garden still echoes with chants of his name, Toppin is, well, happy.
“For sure. Not a lot of people in this position, so that’s all we can do is have fun,” Toppin said on Wednesday. “But yeah, Coach controls all that, and we’re here. I’m ready whenever my name is called, just like every other player. So, whenever my name is called, I’m going to try to give it 110[%] every day.”
As he prepares for his third NBA season, Toppin remains a work in progress. Is he ready for a larger role? And maybe just as important, what to make of that final game and really, the last five games when he averaged 37.5 minutes and 27.2 points?
That is the task for the Knicks' front office and for Thibodeau, finding out if Toppin is really beginning to reach the levels hoped for when the team selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The highlight-reel moments have been there from the start and slowly, steadily, the moments that Thibodeau craves are coming, too.
“I guess you could look at things a lot of different ways,” Thibodeau said. “The context of things, was it the last 10 games when teams were resting? But that’s all part of it. To his credit, he worked great all year. So he got a lot better. And he didn’t stop. When the offseason came he continued on. I’m not surprised. He’s got great energy. He’s always in the gym. Those type of guys always get better.”
Thibodeau pointed to Toppin’s three-point shooting. Through his first 57 games he was shooting 22.4% from beyond the arc, but over the last 15 games he shot 42.3% (and attempted 4.7 threes compared to just 1.7 per game in that earlier stretch). In the last two games he connected on 12 of 23 from three.
While he can be spotted at Citi Field, Yankee Stadium, Rangers playoff games and football games, he worked steadily, too. He then spent a month of the summer in Los Angeles working with former NBA player Don MacLean — along with Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns and Coby White — refining his skills. While the offensive skills may thrill fans, he knows that on the other end is where his minutes will be earned.
“Focused on a lot of things offensively and defensively,” Toppin said. “Working outside the perimeter, outside the three-point line, inside, guarding one through five, being able to guard guards, bigs, wing players, everybody for real. But I really just worked on a little bit of everything.”
He heard the rumors, too, that he could have been included in a package as the Utah Jazz were shopping Donovan Mitchell.
“It’s really nothing because I don’t really pay attention to none of that just because it’s all outside noise,” he said. “But I was in here every day. Other than the month I was in L.A., I was in here every day still working out. I don’t really pay attention to things like that. If things happen, things happen. It’s part of the league, but all we can do is just go out there, play basketball and have fun. So, that’s what I was doing.
“I’m from New York, so the opportunity to be here for another year is amazing. I wouldn't change it for anything. But it’s still a business. I still got to go out there and do my job and I’m going to do that every day.”
Notes & quotes: Quentin Grimes practiced Tuesday but sat out Wednesday with his left foot in a walking boot because of minor soreness. He is listed as day-to-day.