“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Obi Toppin is a 22-year-old power forward from Brooklyn who averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists for the Dayton Flyers (29-2, 18-0 A-10). He is expected to be selected among the top-five picks in the upcoming NBA Draft and as high as No. 1 overall. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 2.
For all the statistics and measurables we often put under a microscope during these player evaluations, Toppin excelled in one area that often gets overlooked. Toppin happened to be the best player on the floor for a team that won a ton of basketball games, especially when compared with other potential 2020 lottery picks.
Toppin was the clear choice for both the Naismith Trophy and the Associated Press National Player of the Year award. In what was an otherwise forgettable and abbreviated college basketball season, Toppin’s relentless consistency was among the bright spots. He won 29 games, lost two by a total of eight points, and likely would have been the heavy favorite to cut down the nets in April, had the coronavirus not obliterated everything in its path.
Toppin isn’t the kind of player who is going to explode for a 40- or 50-point outing, but he also isn’t going to toss up multiple stinkers with terrible shooting numbers. Each time Toppin laced up his sneakers, the Flyers could almost automatically pencil in his 20 points on 60% shooting with a couple of 3s and a handful of thunderous dunks.
The 6-9 Toppin led the NCAA in dunks this past season. He won’t dunk the soul out of your body like a prime Blake Griffin would, but he is a bouncy, savvy cutter who feasts on lobs and put-backs. He also keeps defenses honest with a solid 3-point stroke (39% on a decent number of attempts) and a well-rounded, high-IQ floor game.
With his size, length and vertical athleticism, Toppin has all the makings of a versatile, switchable defender who can even log some minutes at center in certain small-ball lineups.
Toppin might not have the ceiling of other elite lottery prospects, but he might have the highest floor of anyone in this year’s draft. GMs might describe Toppin the same way a car salesman would describe a family sedan – safe, dependable, reliable.
On a scale from 1-10, Toppin’s consistency rates at an 8.5.
Toppin is 22.
Age isn’t everything, and it should not be held against all draft prospects, but it provides important context when trying to project whether Toppin’s Player-of-the-Year type production will translate at the next level.
Try this thought exercise: Jayson Tatum is one day older than Toppin. If we had dropped Jayson Tatum into this college basketball season, against what is clearly subpar talent, would he have averaged 40 points per game? Would he have gotten so bored that he would have struggled to pay attention – like a kid who scored a 1600 on the SATs who can’t focus in a high school history class?
Toppin could only play who was put in front of him. But the players put in front of him were often much younger, much less athletic, and far less talented than who he’ll see in the NBA.
Toppin also doesn’t have any single standout skill that he can lean on – he’s a great leaper, but there are hundreds of great leapers. He’s a solid B at everything, not necessarily an A at anything. He didn’t post the kinds of rebounding/blocks/steals numbers one would expect from a player with his athleticism. He won’t be able to create any offense on his own at the next level – at best, he’ll be an opportunistic role player on offense, not a fulcrum.
Every NBA team needs lanky, athletic, versatile swingmen like Toppin. But how many lottery teams want to spend a top-5 draft asset on a likely role player, when similar role players will be available throughout all 60 picks?
On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Toppin’s advanced age and lack of upside rates at an 8.
Toppin is the textbook definition of “late bloomer.” After a fairly anonymous high school career that yielded exactly zero offers from Division 1 programs, he emerged on the national recruiting scene with a significant growth spurt and a solid post-graduate season at Mt. Zion.
After spending his redshirt year getting his grades in order, he quickly emerged as Dayton’s go-to guy his freshman year – but keep in mind, at age 20-21, Toppin was anything but a typical college freshman.
He made the right call when he pulled out of the 2019 draft. Not only did his decision lead to some significant hardware, but it elevated his draft stock from “fringe first rounder” to “potential No. 1 overall pick.” We’ve seen those stay-or-go draft decision break the wrong way for some players, but Toppin’s decision to come back to Dayton for his sophomore campaign will likely earn him tens of millions of dollars.
Few players in recent draft history have benefitted more from a single college season. Toppin and the Flyers didn’t get their storybook ending, but his individual excellence in 2019-2020 took him from “relatively anonymous” to “Adam Silver calls his name before the third commercial break.”
On a scale from 1-10, Toppin’s sophomore campaign rates a 9.5.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Toppin alone won’t make a bad team competitive. He fits the description of classic “glue guys” in the mold of Trevor Ariza, pre-Achilles-injury Wesley Matthews, Al-Farouq Aminu and every other modern 3-and-D wing who has banked between $50-$100 million in their careers.
Best-case scenario, Toppin allows us to imagine what 7-seconds-era Shawn Marion would have looked like in the modern pace-and-space game. Worst-case, Toppin has maxed out on his ability at Dayton and he reenacts former Syracuse standout Wesley Johnson’s disappointing NBA run.
In a deeper draft, Toppin would end up on a late-lottery team with playoff aspirations who needs one more adult in the room who can defend, hit 3s, and not spend the first four months of an NBA season trying to figure out how to play basketball.
Instead, Toppin will likely end up with one of the teams not invited to the 22-team Orlando bubble. All of these teams could use him, but none of them (other than the Warriors) are going to contend for the playoffs next season. Cleveland needs his services the most – after spending consecutive lottery picks on shoot-first guards, the Cavaliers need a sturdy, high-IQ frontcourt player who can set the tone with his consistency.
On a scale from 1-10, Toppin’s situational independence is an 8, but it might not be until his second contract when we get to see him making key plays in playoff games.