For the second year in a row, a mid-major prospect is considered one of the top players in the NBA draft and a likely lottery pick. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Ja Morant provided us the latest example of showcasing mid-major talent in the NBA, following in the footsteps of (and this is just recently) Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Gordon Hayward, and more.
Obi Toppin was the best player in college basketball last year and, naturally, he is regarded as one of the top prospects in this year’s NBA Draft. Nobody had a meteoric rise in 2020 quite like Toppin. Toppin returned to Dayton for his sophomore year after testing the draft waters in the 2018-19 season, where he was considered a fringe two-way contract player. Obi’s draft stock rose immensely after a historic season where he earned first team All American honors and won National Player of the Year, leading Dayton to unforeseen heights while averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds and shooting 69 percent from the field. (Editor’s note: Nice). Toppin was also the most efficient offensive player in the country according to KenPom.
Toppin put Dayton in a position to earn a top seed and possibly make a deep tourney run, but COVID-19 ruined that dream. Obi is considered to have the highest floor in the draft and may be the most NBA-ready player in this draft class. But people question his ceiling and if his upside (or potential lack thereof) merits him being a top five pick. Let’s break it down.
It seemed like Toppin put on a dunk contest in every A-10 game this season. Toppin was a highlight machine appearing weekly on SportsCenter Top 10 highlight reels. Toppin has elite athleticism for his size and he can jump out of the gym. He is a big who can run the floor and is elite in transition offense. His top-tier athleticism makes him a lob threat in the pick and roll and he is skilled enough to put the ball on the deck. Toppin might one of the more established pick and roll threats we have seen coming out of the draft. Toppin didn’t shoot 69 percent from the floor on accident.
Obi Toppin doing dunk contest dunks in game pic.twitter.com/qgRpTY1zdE— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) February 29, 2020
Obi Toppin is a bucket. He may have the most diverse scoring skill set in this draft class. We just mentioned he can get to the rim and finish with athleticism. Toppin has shown an ability to create offense all by himself, especially from the perimeter. He has shown he could be a good catch and shoot big, shooting 39 percent from the three point line. He also was able to score creatively in isolation, making pull up opportunities for himself or finding a lane to the basket. It will impress NBA general managers that he was able to score at a very efficient clip while consistently maintaining a high usage rate. In addition, he has shown he can be unselfish passer, creating opportunities for his teammates. The diverse array of offensive skills makes him a very intriguing offensive prospect at the next level.
Perimeter defense and rebounding
Although he was an elite shot blocker and a defensive stopper at the collegiate level, scouts have questioned if he can have the same type of impact on the NBA court. Standing at 6’9, he is only of average size. He was always the strongest and most athletic big on the floor playing in the A-10. This will not be the case in the NBA. Toppin needs to show improvement with foot quickness, where he could get exposed switching on guards in the perimeter or even guarding more athletic small ball fours like Kawhi Leonard and Jaysom Tatum. It is also puzzling how Toppin only averaged 7.6 rebounds in his final year of college. With his elite size and leaping ability, plus Dayton’s tendency to force missed shots, Toppin should have easily averaged over 10 rebounds a game. We also didn’t really get to see Toppin in a situation where he had to defend the low post with any consistency. A-10 teams did not feel it was beneficial to attack Toppin down low, and therefore our sample size is small in determining whether or not he can hang with elite post scoring threats.
Turning 22 by the time he would suit up for his first NBA game, Toppin is the elderly statesman for the top portion of the 2020 NBA draft class. Although it may be unfair criticism, many teams may be worried Toppin’s upside has already peaked. The new trend of the NBA is drafting young 19 year old one and done prospects and trying to develop them under their guidance. With 3 less years of peak Toppin, a team may be more willing to take a risk on a higher upside pick.
High Ceiling NBA Comp: Blake Griffin
We’ll compare Obi Toppin to another 6’9 big man who also swept postseason awards. Like Griffin, Toppin has elite athleticism and has shown the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Toppin’s brand of athleticism is explosive and he excels at playing above the rim offensively. He will have an immediate role as a catch and lob big man and his knowledge of spacing in the pick and roll make him a day one capable scorer in the NBA. Toppin has shown he is able to carry a scoring load for a team and has performed admirably against top tier competition, most notably against Kansas in the Maui Invitational. Early in his career, Griffin was the number one scoring option for the Clippers and benefitted from having a Hall-of-Fame point guard in Chris Paul. Toppin probably has more of a complete scoring skill set and is a better perimeter shooter than Griffin was entering the league.
But it remains to be seen if Toppin has the physical tenacity Griffin had in the low block which made him a double-double machine in his early NBA days. With the way the NBA is trending, Toppin has the chance to be a really productive athletic stretch 4 that will have a large amount of success in the league. Toppin may not have the superstar potential of a Jayson Tatum, but he’s going to be force and he is going to win a lot of games for the smart franchise that takes a chance on him.
Draft Projection: No. 5 to the Cleveland Cavaliers
I truly believe if the NCAA tournament took place, Toppin would have played into being the number one overall pick in the draft. However, that is not the current reality we live in. Toppin only has his dominating tape from the Maui Invational and A-10 conference play to show his resume. I really think his age makes a large impact and teams will try to shoot for higher-upside bigs that carry more uncertainty. My prediction? Multiple GMs are going to get fired for passing on Toppin after he becomes a consistent All-Star. Toppin has a fascinating draft range and I can see him getting picked as high as number 2 and I can see him falling all the way down to 9. So, we are going to settle somewhere in the middle by sending him to the Cavs. Drafting Toppin would give young point guard Colin Sexton an athletic pick and roll big man and lob catcher. Toppin may not give the Cavs the defensive stopper they need, but they also need a desperate big time scorer, and Toppin will provide that as the Cavs continue to navigate the post-Lebron Era, Part Two (Editor’s note: Electric Boogaloo).