Note: This article was originally published in preparation for the 2020 NBA Draft
Nobody's draft stock took as big a leap this past year as Dayton's Obi Toppin whose rise from relative unknown to likely top-5 pick is nothing short of meteoric.
If you follow the 2020 NBA Draft class closely, and I mean really closely, you'll know Toppin had a bit of buzz as a potential two-way contract recipient after his 2018-19 season. A 6'9" forward with incredible explosion and stunning offence instincts some general managers thought he was worthy of a G League spot, but no one would have ever expected him to be where he is now.
Toppin's basketball journey has been a fascinating one. After playing at three different high schools he held zero college offers which led him to spend a year at prep school. After turning heads there he earned an offer from Dayton, but academic issues forced him to sit out his first season. Finally able to play as a 20-year old redshirt freshman for the 2018-19 campaign he led his team in scoring and rebounding and then this past season he exploded.
After lighting up nearly every team in his path, seemingly every college basketball accolade was rewarded to Toppin including an All-American selection, the Karl Malone Award (given to the nation's top power forward), and the Naismith College Basketball Player Of The Year, just to name a few. In doing so, he also shot up NBA Draft boards to where he's at now.
Nowadays teams are usually looking for guards and wings at the top of the draft but Toppin could completely shift that strategy. As modern of a power forward as you get with offensive versatility and defensive quickness, he could slide seamlessly into any team's scheme and for that reason, he'll hear his name called early on draft night.
Looking at the way NBA offences currently run it's all about the pick and roll. For that reason teams are always looking for ball handlers who can operate off of screens, but what about the other half of the equation?
Toppin is quite possibly the most talented pick and roll big man of the last few seasons and his intrigue can come from the fact he can beat you in a few different ways.
If he rolls to the hoop he's an extraordinary lob threat. At 6'9" with an absurd 7'2" wingspan he's as long as a pterodactyl and when he leaps in the air it looks as though he's flying like one. Tobbin's mix of length, explosion, and timing make for a massive catch radius on alley-oops and he'll provide elite "vertical spacing," a trendy term in today's coaching circles.
If the defence sagging to take away the roll? Toppin will just pop out to the three-point line where he hit 39% of his long balls, displaying great range and touch.
If a team switches to try to take away the roll or the pop? Toppin can dribble his man down to the block and use elegant footwork in the post before finishing with power.
Toppin might be the best screen setting offensive player we've seen in a number of years but that's not where his scoring value ends. A point guard in high school all the way until he hit his growth spurt as a senior Toppin has great ball-handling ability as well as passing vision you don't see from many frontcourt players. His lengthy wingspan allows him to keep the ball low to the ground against smaller defenders who might be trying to poke the ball away and he's got the dexterity to string together multiple dribble combinations. Showing great confidence in his handle he's able to keep his head up at all times, reading defences and delivering pinpoint passes as soon as the proper read is there.
The crazy length and dynamic jumping ability make Toppin an energetic weak side defender. He was a prolific shot blocker in college and many of his swats came as a help defender sprinting over from the opposite side of the floor to vaporize layups.
Toppin will also have value as arguably the most polished player in this draft. With his developed skillset and mature frame, it's easy to imagine him in an NBA rotation next year and on a rookie scale deal that will make a general manager extremely happy.
One of the questions surrounding Toppin will be his ceiling. He's already 22 years old and looks to have cultivated a lot of his skills and for that reason, there will be a question of if he has another level to get to. For organizations that love safe picks, Toppin will be their guy but if a team is looking to take a home run swing he may not offer enough charm.
Toppin shot 39% from three last season which looks great but it should be noted that he only took less than three attempts per game. That makes his sample size on the smaller side and he actually passed up a lot of shots that you would normally expect an above-average shooter to take. According to Synergy Sports Technology, he hit 42.6% of his wide-open shots, but only 33.3% when guarded. That shooting number isn't bad by any stretch, but it's a somewhat average mark that shows Toppin might not project to be a top-tier NBA shooter.
Let's talk about hips. There is a ton you can tell about a player based on his hips, especially defensively, so bear with me.
First off, Toppin has high hips. That really hurts him when it comes to getting low in a defensive stance and for that reason, he plays too upright. When facing a faster perimeter player his rigid vertical stance didn't allow him to slide sideways with much burst and he was often caught chasing after quickly getting beat.
Secondly, Toppin has tight and inflexible hips. This caused problems when a player changed directions on him during a drive as he wasn't able to flip his hips and mirror the offensive player's movements.
Toppin has exceptional leaping ability but lacks a bit of functional athleticism. Offensively he is so talented that this doesn't hurt him but defensively he may have issues at the next level.
Projected NBA Draft Position: 3-6
Projected NBA Role: Starting power forward.
NBA Comparison: Tobias Harris
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.