Obi Toppin made his return from a calf strain Wednesday night after missing 10-straight games, playing just short of a minute before getting pulled.
It was clear that Toppin’s conditioning was far from 100 percent after this extended down time, but he should slowly make his way back into the rotation.
What does this mean for the now flailing, losers of four-straight Knicks?
For one, the Knicks finally get a body back from injury, which can help ease the minutes strain, especially for Julius Randle. He currently ranks second in the league in minutes played, in no small part due to having no traditional backup for weeks.
Toppin’s return should allow for Randle to take longer breathers instead of playing entire quarters and halves. Fresher legs for the Knicks’ best talent would be a big help in turning around this slide.
Toppin’s inclusion should also bring a healthy dose of shooting and transition help for a team desperately needing both. New York’s three-point shooting has been largely ignored by NBA defenses as of late, with Randle, Barrett and Elfrid Payton unable to make them pay.
Though Kevin Knox has provided a nice lift as of late, the rotation is still devoid of threatening shooters. Toppin had a solid stroke at the collegiate level and went 3-for-7 from deep in his first NBA contest, though one of the makes banked in. Even if he’s just attempting seven a night, it could at the very least help pull some defenders out of the paint for other Knicks to attack.
Toppin may not have the fluid athleticism many would want, but he can get down the court in a jiffy, especially for a big. Combine that with his verticality and he’ll be a boost to the Knicks’ transition game so long as Payton, Austin Rivers and Immanuel Quickley keep their heads up for him. New York’s stagnant offense could use an uptick in easy buckets on the break, something Toppin should be able to provide.
We can also see unique and fun lineups that coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been able to experiment with due to his limited healthy options. Randle at the center with Toppin at the four got little play in the preseason, but could be an option now with the offense struggling and Nerlens Noel’s inconsistent performances.
There’s also potential for a Quickley-Barrett-Knox-Toppin-Robinson lineup, comprised entirely of the Knicks’ young core, which may not be the winningest but would make for an entertaining glimpse at the future of the franchise.
The Knicks and their fans have high hopes for Toppin, and though his return gives New York a much-needed boost, it’s unlikely to impact their wins and losses in material ways. That’s how it goes for most rookies in the league, but if the losses continue to pile at least New York can enjoy them more seeing their latest prized prospect actually out on the court.