Saturday, October 23, 2021

Obi Toppin hints at Dunk Contest try as he looks to find Knicks role

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There have been a handful of stirring dunks for Knicks forward Obi Toppin in his rookie season. But there haven’t been a lot of offense or minutes for the 2020 lottery pick.

The Brooklyn product said he’s still figuring out the leap from Dayton to the NBA and hopes to unveil “new things’’ to spur his adjustment.

The Dayton dunk machine’s rookie-season highlight may come in Atlanta if he is invited to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest at the newly-arranged All-Star event.

A wide grin broke across Toppin’s face at the possibility — a potential indicator he has inside intel of having a legitimate chance at an invite.

“The Dunk Contest, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,’’ said a smiling Toppin. “I don’t want to just give you all answers, but hopefully I might be able to be there. Maybe not. So we’re just going to have to wait and see.’’

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is riding emerging star Julius Randle nearly 40 minutes per game, limiting Toppin’s playing time to just 12 minutes.

Toppin’s team defense needs work, and he hasn’t been physical enough inside to create his own shot.

“I feel like everybody is helping me with that, my coaches and teammates. All of those guys are helping me try to find what I’m really good at.’’

“I’m still trying to find my offensive spot, first time playing in the NBA. I’m trying to find out what I’m really good at this level. I’m going to start trying new things.’’

Asked what differences struck him between Dayton and the NBA, Toppin said: “The difference between college and now — I feel like physicality, the speed of the game, those two things are the main things probably that I need to adjust to. I’m learning every single day and feel like I’m getting better.’’

Missing summer league was a major loss for Toppin, who didn’t play at an elite program like Immanuel Quickley at Kentucky. NBA GMs still projected Toppin, at age 22, would compete for Rookie of the Year, voting him third-likeliest candidate.

One NBA source connected to the Knicks said of Toppin’s awkward situation: “Some of the stuff he does in college, it doesn’t work. That’s all he knows right now. He hasn’t been able to acclimate to the NBA because it’s different from college. He’s learning.

He knows he’s a rookie and has a lot of to learn. He’s ready for it, and he’s also patient. Give it time, it will come.’’

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In 13 games, Toppin is averaging 4.6 points. 2.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists. He also has missed 10 games with a calf strain.

Thibodeau said he needs to improve his team defense and feels the absence of summer league really hurt the college player of the year.

“All rookies, that’s the challenge,’’ Thibodeau said. “You have a skill set from the players in the league that is different than college. The lane is different, the rules are different. He has to get to know the system he’s in. He has to get to know the players in the league and system he’s going against. There’s a lot of good things he’s doing each day. But the first time through, it’s a challenge for every rookie. The second time through will be better, third time better after that. He’s making good, steady progress.’’

Saturday, the 6-foot-9 Toppin will face a boyhood idol — fellow Brooklynite Carmelo Anthony — as the Knicks host the Trail Blazers.

“He’s an amazing player. He has a really strong post game. He has a very good touch. Seeing the different moves that he has in the post, the fakes, I’m going to try and learn from [him].’’.

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