Let's face it - the New York Knicks haven't been good since 2013. They've missed the playoffs with a losing record in seven consecutive seasons and haven't shown much promise throughout that timespan.
How do bad teams typically rebuild? The draft, but the Knicks haven't had a great recent history either.
They've had 10 top-10 picks in the last 20 years and don't exactly have the roster to show for it. While they have recently hit on a second-rounder in Mitchell Robinson (No. 36 in 2018), their first rounders have yet to bear the fruit of that title.
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Over the last three years they've selected RJ Barrett (No. 3 in 2019), Kevin Knox (No. 9 in 2018) and Frank Ntilikina (No. 8 in 2017) in the top-10 - three players who are still young and growing, and it's certainly too soon to count any of them out. But with that being said, there are players in their same draft class selected after them who have already flourished into established NBA talents - not as much for Barrett yet, but certainly the latter two.
Take Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (pick No. 11) for an example in 2018, with Donovan Mitchell (No. 13) and Bam Adebayo (No. 14) in 2017. Imagine New York with Gilgeous-Alexander and either Mitchell or Adebayo on its roster right now?
This isn't something new for the Knicks. In 2015, they took a home run swing on Kristaps Porzingis and, injuries aside, knocked that pick out of the park. Impatience with his health led to the trade with the Dallas Mavericks that landed them a pair of first-round draft picks in 2021 and 2023, so we'll see how that develops, but they still gave away their one successful lottery pick in the last 20 years.
Jordan Hill (No. 8 in 2009) didn't work out and DeMar DeRozan was selected after him. Danilo Gallinari (No. 6 in 2008) was a key piece that helped them get Carmelo Anthony, but is that what you're looking for in a No. 6 overall pick? Channing Frye (No. 8 in 2005) had a solid two seasons in New York but the same can't be said for Mike Sweetney (No. 9 in 2003). They selected Nenê (No. 7 in 2002) and traded him for a post-knee injury Antonio McDyess in the same night, all with Amar'e Stoudemire still on the board (who they'd get for almost nothing years later, only when he wasn't in his prime).
All of this is to say that very rarely, in the last 20 years, could the Knicks walk away on draft night feeling confident in what they've done.
The same cannot be said for the 2020 NBA Draft, where selecting Dayton's Obi Toppin with the No. 8 overall pick was the safest and smartest thing the franchise has done in quite some time.
MORE: Why Toppin is "bust-proof"
It would have been Knicks-y to take Israeli prospect Deni Avdija, who also slid further than expected and could very well turn into a top player in this year's draft class down the line, but there are still questions about certain key areas in his game. There were other enticing players on the board with a lot of potential but New York elected to go with hands-down the best player in college basketball this past season instead of rolling the dice - the right play for a franchise looking to turn the corner.
Toppin was the AP National Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, John R. Wooden Award winner and a Consensus All-American. Say what you want about the competition he faced playing in the mid-major Atlantic-10, he had Dayton as a top-five team in the country for the first time in school history with an overall record of 29-2 (18-0 in conference play), closing the season ranked No. 3 in the nation.
Averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 63.3% from the field and 39.0% from 3, Toppin made the game look easy in his sophomore season. Standing in at 6-foot-9 with a 220-pound frame and a lengthy 7-foot-2 wingspan, he's the prototypical size for a versatile forward in today's NBA. His leaping ability is elite and he can shoot the 3, so how did he slide past eight other teams?
His lateral quickness is his glaring question mark - a big question at that as he's going to be asked to defend explosive forwards on the perimeter. There are also questions surrounding his ability to create and make shots off the dribble, especially when he won't be the best athlete every time he steps on the floor like he was in college.
New York's new head coach Tom Thibodeau is the perfect teacher to try and help Toppin learn how to become a solid defender in the league, while his shot creation will have to come from putting in the work. But his motor has never been questioned, something that can't be said about other players selected ahead of him.
Under a new regime within the franchise and all anticipation of Toppin being featured heavily from the get-go, he should have plenty of opportunities to prove the eight teams that passed on him wrong. There aren't many other rookies expected to have as big of an impact on their teams in their first season, and Toppin will capitalize on that when he wins 2021 Rookie of the Year.
That's high expectations for the young forward getting thrown into the fire on a Knicks team that should struggle again, entering NBA play with no Summer League and only a few weeks of training camp, but he's been waiting for this moment to shine in New York since he was a kid.
New York made through and through.- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) November 20, 2020
(via obitoppin_1/IG) pic.twitter.com/PUphE6oCtC
The Knicks have only had three Rookie of the Year award winners in franchise history: Willis Reed in 1965, Patrick Ewing in 1986 and Mark Jackson in 1988. Since then, they've only had three players - Porzingis, Landry Fields and Frye - finish in the top-five of Rookie of the Year voting.
Toppin could enter Knicks royalty in his first season by achieving said feat, but he's not one to aim for individual accolades.
"It's definitely a blessing that people are saying that, but at the end of the day, I take it day by day," he stated on the chatter that he could win ROY. "For myself, I'm a big team guy so I'm never going to say my expectations are for myself. Me coming into a new brotherhood, a new family, I feel like I want to bring everybody together," he continued.
"I want to change the culture. I want to win a lot of games and want to get to the playoffs. I feel like the group of guys we have now, the coaching staff we have now, everybody's going to push each other every single day to be great and to win a lot of games. We want to make these fans happy and put a show on for them."
If Toppin can help lead the Knicks back to the playoffs at any point of his tenure with the team, he'll be beloved by the hungry fanbase. It all starts with a promising rookie season in showing New York it made the right decision to select him when he fell past his projection on draft day.
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