The Portland Trail Blazers continue to falter in pursuit of the playoffs. The lottery is now looking more likely than the post-season. Enter, Obi Toppin.
It might seem off topic to be focussing on a bouncy power forward / center. But this Portland Trail Blazers team is in desperate need of some athleticism and energy, on both ends.
The Blazers are meekly falling out of the playoff race, and have really lacked the energy on both ends down the stretch of this season. It’s not that they can’t score, they are one of the best shooting team’s in the league. But they lack rim finishing, energy, and size.
Our best wing defender is almost 35. Our best big man just came back from a broken leg after 12 months out. And our next best two-way player may be Gary Trent Jr, who is a second-round-pick from 2018 and will likely command a decent payday in 2021.
This team does have most of the pieces it requires to be a second-tier playoff contender in this league. But size and energy are two things they are distinctly lacking.
Certain first-round-pick Obi Toppin could be what this team needs. For now, don’t worry that he is mocked in the top ten. The Blazers may end the season deep in the lottery, they are only two wins away from having the tenth-worst record in the league.
If they can’t beat the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings with Damian Lillard back in the line-up, it probably means they are lottery bound. Like the New Orleans Pelicans last year, we all saw how the new lottery odds worked with them receiving the number one pick and the privilege of drafting Zion Williamson.
Obi Toppin is a six-foot-nine power forward / center out of Dayton. He is a second year player who has exploded into lottery reckoning with some startling performances over the last few months. He is a lean 220 pounds and has a massive seven-foot-four wingspan.
He has some of the highlights of the college year so far with plays that big men should be incapable of making. A between the legs dunk in particular went viral recently.
The first thing that comes to mind when watching Toppin is his fluid movement with or without the ball. He is very quick for his size and has big long strides. He has crazy athleticism but is also ultra aggressive and tries to get to the cup almost every time. 10 out of his 13 shots attempts a night are inside the arc, and he loves running in transition. This season, per Synergy, Toppin has finished at a whopping 75 percent on transition opportunities. If you look across the board, he is actually finishing well in every play type.
He shoots 56 percent on spot up shots this year which includes 39 percent from three. He only attempts two and a bit three-pointers a game so the above number is a relatively small sample. But when watching him spot up, if he is wide open, he isn’t afraid to let it fly. He has a nice high release because of his long arms, and nice looking form. He looks confident taking jumpers and doesn’t force them, only shooting when he is wide open.
He can attack off the dribble in the half-court as well. Though this may not translate in the NBA due to the defenses, people will respect his shot so he can attack closeouts. His explosiveness and speed means he is a threat as soon as he gets downhill, his handle isn’t élite but still strong for a big which makes him a drive threat from further out.
His strength is his transition game and as a lob threat, he loves to grab rebounds or receive outlets and run the floor. He has a spin game or can just dunk all over people after a couple of long strides in the open court. He has great hands and because he is such a great leaper he can grab lobs from all different angles. He will be a prime lob threat in the NBA.
As a passer he has real potential. Because of his strong IQ and good decision-making, he can make good early reads while being able to pass out of a double team too. He also makes quick decisions and looks like he may be able to make passes on the run or above-level reads in the future.
Defensively, he has work to do, but still has some strengths. He has good anticipation, so even as he isn’t a great lateral mover he gets some steals by beating his man to the spot for a pass or poking balls away and then running for transition opportunities. He has ok post defense but with the postup dying in the NBA, he is better to work on defending in space, which is a weakness of his.
Because of his great hops, he has some good moments as a shot blocker but this is more to do with his leaping and timing not because of great positioning. His ceiling as a defender may well be an above-average rim protector, but he needs to do a lot of work to be competent in other areas. He isn’t great at closing out to shooters and isn’t an elite rebounder. He needs to be better at boxing out and look to be more active off the ball while also playing with consistent effort on that end.
He has a lot of the tools to be a great defender, but as a second-year player he will need to get a lot of these issues inline quickly if he wants to play major minutes in the NBA.
Toppin can be the backup center / big that add’s a different dimension to this team. The Blazers may not be picking high enough to get him, but if he was in their range they should draft him as the best player available rather than getting someone for fit.
Having some real athleticism on this team would open up the floor more for shooters while also utilizing more of a transition game. Come June it will be fascinating to see where Toppin falls, and what the Blazers strategy will be in the draft.