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Knicks lottery pick Obi Toppin never got a chance to dance during March Madness. The pandemic struck down the 2020 NCAA Tournament and many conference tournaments.
NBA’s college scouts were put at a loss without “The Big Dance” to evaluate. Starting Thursday, the Knicks’ college scouts — led by Scott Perry, Walter Perrin, Walker Russell, Reggie Johnson and Alex Kline — will be glued to their TVs as the Knicks likely hold three picks in the top 31 of the 2021 NBA draft. (Sadly, scouts weren’t allowed to even attend college practices).
Toppin, the Knicks’ 2020 lottery pick, would have shined on the big stage last March, led Dayton to the national title and would have been off the board at No. 8.
Or Toppin’s game would have shown more holes against tougher competition than Fordham and St. Bonaventure and the Knicks would have passed.
We’ll never know.
The Atlantic 10 got its 2020 conference tournament in with Dayton winning and moving to 29-2. The Flyers got robbed, though Toppin still won all the college player-of-the-year awards.
Toppin’s rookie year has not gone nearly as smoothly. Toppin’s playing time is declining instead of rising, playing behind All-Star Julius Randle. In Philly on Tuesday, Toppin looked lost in seven scoreless minutes with a blooper-like missed dunk.
“My minutes going down did not discourage me at all,” Toppin said Thursday before the Knicks faced Orlando. “It’s just something that’s telling me I gotta push even harder every single day, get extra time in the gym and the weight room and just get better and learn every single day. There’s always opportunities to learn.”
RJ Barrett also wasn’t viewed as living up to his No. 3-overall draft status as a rookie. He’s doing so now.
“It’s tough to be a rookie, especially in his situation,” Barrett said. “Playing behind an All-Star, it’s tough. You just got to keep going, keep pushing like he’s doing. He’s a sponge and wants to learn and is working hard. As long as he keeps doing that, he’ll be a good player in this league.”
If missing the dance didn’t affect his stock, Toppin missed out on a vital experience. He never got that moment, just like he never got a Las Vegas summer league.
To date, Toppin hasn’t found a way to score inside like he did effortlessly at Dayton, showing a lack of NBA strength.
Averaging 4.5 points in 12 minutes, Toppin has been mostly stuck on the outside. The Knicks didn’t draft Toppin to be an elite 3-point marksman. He is 23, so project should not be part of the narrative. But it is.
“Last year when I was at Dayton, I was not on the perimeter a lot,” Toppin said. “I was mostly in the post and had a couple of 3s a game. It’s still, like, this is my first year, I’m still trying to find what I do best on the court that can help the team win and once we figure that out, I feel like I’m gonna get better and better every day.”
Barrett got a chance to play in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, getting to the Elite 8 when Duke was upset by Michigan State
“Honestly, every win was amazing,” Barrett said. “Every one was a lot of fun. I would say the whole year was a great experience for me. It was a lot of fun. I will always remember it.”
Duke — crazy as it sounds — didn’t make the dance this year.
“I always see how my guys are doing — I still have friends who go to school there,” Barrett said. “It was a down year for us but we’ll be back.”
Dayton will also join Duke on the NCAA sidelines. Dayton is headed to the NIT instead. A Toppin-less squad finished 14-9. St. Bonaventure is going to The Big Dance as A-10 champions — as you may have learned from colleague Mike Vaccaro’s Twitter.
Michael VandeGarde, a Sixers college scout for 18 years who recently set up a new NBA-themed high-school scouting service, told The Post Toppin had enough decent college competition as a sophomore to make a valid determination. He just may not pan out.
“I think it’s a cop-out,” VandeGarde said. “He played 31 games last season, played Kansas, Georgia, Virginia Tech. They either missed or he will take more time. He was a slow starter at Dayton, maybe he’ll be a slow starter in the NBA, but there should be lots of concerns.”
Knicks fans will be all over March Madness watching potential draft picks. But as Frank Ntilikina (2017,) Kevin Knox (2018) and Toppin show, even the lottery is no sure thing.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Marc Berman