Obi Toppin was selected 8th overall by the New York Knicks on Wednesday, November 8th, 2020. For New Yorkers, there was a feeling of hope and excitement around the new high-profile draft pick.
It’s been almost three years since that day, and Toppin’s time with the Knicks is now over.

The power forward was traded to Indiana for two second-round draft picks on July 1st, ending a three-year tenure in New York. There were lows and highs in the three-year – at times tenuous – relationship between Obi and his now former team.

He will be a well-remembered player in New York for his energy on the court and highlight reel dunks that send the Garden into a frenzy. However, in the end, issues with playing time and general discontent with the team led to the end of his time here.

Let’s look through Obi’s three-year tenure with the Knicks from the beginning; The moments where he shone the brightest, the times he sunk the lowest, and what led to his departure.

Rookie Year

Toppin made his NBA debut on December 23rd, 2020, in the first game of the 72-game shortened NBA season. He scored nine points, three rebounds, and two blocks in the Knicks’ 121-107 loss to the Pacers. In his debut, he sustained an injury that kept him out of the next 10 games, returning to the team on January 13th. Following his return, Obi didn’t put up particularly strong numbers to close out the season, averaging 4.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.

A highlight of his rookie year was being invited to the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, where he finished 2nd behind Anfernee Simons. Obi was part of the Knicks team that broke their eight-year playoff drought in what was a magical season. In his playoff debut, he averaged 6.4 points per game in a five-game series against the Hawks.

Overall statistically, it was a disappointing first year for Toppin, but promise around the young man stayed, and New York had hope for his sophomore year and beyond that.

Sophomore Year

In his sophomore year, Toppin’s stats increased, as he finished the year averaging 9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. The 2021-2022 season was a letdown for the Knicks as they returned to a familiar place of mediocrity, finishing 37-45 on the year.

After coming in second in his debut the previous year, the second-year power forward won the NBA Dunk Contest in 2022, beating Juan Tuscano-Anderson in the final round. Obi finished the year with the two best performances of his career, with 35 points in the penultimate game of the season and 42 in the season finale at the Garden on April 10th.

Final Year in New York

In his final season with the Knicks, Toppin put up similar numbers with 7.4 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game. The issue of playing time rose to a much more prominent place for the forward in his third year as his spot with the Knicks sunk into a more precarious position throughout the season.

In the end, he had a solid playoff performance, averaging 7.0 points per game in eleven games. In what ended up being his final year with the team, Toppin was a solid piece of a Knicks squad that made their deepest playoff run in years. However, his stats still left much to be desired as his time playing his home games in Manhattan came to an end.

What Led to His Departure?

Following the end of the 2022-2023 season, there were multiple reports that Toppin was general discontent in New York in the previous season and would prefer a change in scenery. There were a variety of reasons why the match didn’t work out, but there’s one key factor that, in all likelihood, ultimately led to the trade. On June 21st, audio of a verbal altercation between Toppin and head coach Tom Thibodeau following game 4 of the second round series against Miami was leaked, at the time adding fuel to the fire of speculation around Obi Toppin’s time in New York ending.

In the audio, you can hear Obi confronting Thibodeau about problems with the way he coaches and him airing his frustrations with how the roster is managed. One issue bought up consistently by the fanbase while Toppin was on the Knicks was the lack of minutes for the young forward. Toppin played 15.7 minutes per game this past season and 17.0 per game the season before. Getting consistent playing time for Obi seemed to be an issue, especially this year, and that is likely part of what led to the Knicks trading him.

While some of the blame is placed on Toppin himself for his disappointing tenure with the Knicks, it’s also fair to say he had a difficult time finding a good opportunity to get a good amount of playing time to prove himself throughout his three years in Manhattan. Whether it be Julius Randle being on the court for so much of the time and Thibodeau seemingly not wanting to pair the two or other issues, Toppin never received consistent playing time.

Moving on and Moving Forward

Ultimately, the two sides will move on, as Toppin will start the 2023-2024 season on the Indiana Pacers roster. The return of two second-round draft picks is paltry, considering Obi was the 8th overall pick just three years ago, but that is what Indiana sent over in return for the 25-year-old forward.

He will join Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and, moreover, in Indiana and is ready for a fresh start.

Toppin said on his time with the Knicks:

“I had a great time with the Knicks. Obviously, it’s been a dream to have the opportunity to play at MSG and obviously put that Knicks jersey on. There were great players there, great coaches, and everybody was amazing there.”

He then commented:

“I’m not really worried about the past anymore, thinking about that. All I’m worried about is this new start, a fresh start, and I can’t wait to get out there.”

It’s a tough pill for New Yorkers to swallow, seeing a lottery draft pick go after three years of lacking playing time for a return of two second-round draft picks. Ultimately the two sides didn’t match and are ready to move forward and go their separate ways.
Although it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, hopefully, Obi can get some more playing time in Indiana and fully develop into the great player, we saw flashes of in New York. And, of course, Once a Knick, always a Knick.

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