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Suns 2020 Draft Spotlight: Obi could be Toppin the Suns board on draft night

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Obi Toppin dominated college basketball last season at Dayton. Does the gifted offensive big man make sense in Phoenix?

George Washington v Dayton Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns draft coverage ensues, as we cover one of the most electrifying athletes in college basketball last season, Obi Toppin from Dayton. Toppin absolutely dominated the competition last year and took home the Wooden Award as the most outstanding player in college basketball.

How does he fit in Phoenix? Are his strengths worth the potential defensive liabilities? Will he even be available when they are picking? We will dive into all that and more below.

10th pick previews: Killian Hayes, Devin Vassell, Isaac Okoro, Patrick Williams, Tyrese Haliburton

Trade back candidate previews: Ty-Shon Alexander

General Background

Position: Forward/Center

Measurables: 6’9” - 6’11” wingspan (not confirmed)

Age: 22

Team: Dayton

Role: Score 1st-big

Additional Shooting Numbers (via Barttorvik)

  • Dunks: 107-115 (93.0%)
  • Close 2s: 167-202 (82.7%)
  • Far 2s: 46-103 (44.7%)
  • FTr: 36.4%

Only players in the NCAA (since 2008) to have a BPM greater than 10, TS% greater than 65% and 60+ dunks:

  • Zion Williamson (2019)
  • Anthony Davis (2012)
  • Derrick Williams (2011)
  • Brandon Clarke (2019)
  • Cody Zeller (2012)
  • Obi Toppin (2020)
  • Udoka Azubuike (2020)

Draft Range

  • ESPN: 6th (mock draft)
  • The Ringer: 12th (big board)
  • Bleacher Report: 10th (mock draft)
  • Tankathon: 8th (mock draft)
  • NBA Draft Net: 6th (mock draft)
  • CBS: 5th (mock draft)

As you can see, he is more than likely to be off the board when the Suns are on the clock. If he does last until 10, he is someone I could envision this front office selecting due to his combination of age, experience, offensive firepower and NBA-readiness. I’d give him around a ~5% chance of being available at the 10th pick though, so it’s not a scenario I find all that likely but it is possible.


Offense

Strengths: Finishing/Soft Touch, Vertical Explosiveness, Passing, Efficiency

Weaknesses: Handle, NBA threes?, Off-dribble shooting/creation

Toppin was an ultra efficient offensive juggernaut that led the charge of a well-oiled offensive machine at Dayton. He has elite touch and finishing ability around the rim and inside the arc. He led the entire NCAA in dunks last year with 107.

His shooting projection looks mostly positive, though he didn’t have tremendous volume from deep so I’m not sure if he’ll be a consistent reliable threat from three point land, which is something he needs to be. Frankly he didn’t need to (shoot tons of threes) in order to dominate like he did in Dayton’s system, so it’s something we could see more of as he expands his game in an NBA system but it does remain a bit of a question mark at the moment. He is a high-IQ player offensively that takes what the defense gives him and plays within himself, displaying smart shot selection time and time again.

The passing is better than it looks on the surface if you were to just glance at the 2.2 assists per game you may say there’s “nothing special” in that phase of his game, but if you watch the tape he’s actually a plus passer that would fit in the 0.5 offense with his lightning quick decision-making and instinctual feeds out of the short roll.

I do worry about his handle and how loose it is along with how he only hit one(!) off-the-dribble jumper the entire season, which does not bode well for someone his age in that development of his game. His self-creation will likely be hindered due to that and he will mostly rely on others to get him involved, which isn’t optimal next to someone with similar issues in Deandre Ayton.

He also makes very fun plays like this.


Defense

Strengths: Vertical athleticism, Interior defense

Weaknesses: Lateral quickness, Defensive awareness, Lack of engagement

This is where the concerns about long-term fit come into play for Toppin, as he is athletic in terms of his leaping ability (vertical athleticism), but when it comes to mobility on the perimeter he is a complete liability. Looking at how the game is played today — especially in the postseason — it’s very easy for teams to target the weak-link on the perimeter and “hunt” them all game long, essentially making them unplayable.

This is most common for slow footed centers, but there are exceptions for specialty players (premier shooters, smaller scoring guards, etc.), so the question with Toppin is if he gets played off the court in the playoffs, is he worth investing a top 10 pick in and having him groomed as your power forward of the future present? He is not entirely hopeless defensively as his interior defense due to his leaping ability is solid, but anytime he's on an island or trying to guard someone in space it does not end well.

I’d really encourage you to watch this quick montage of blown defensive assignments, slow lateral movement and poor reads and tell me if this is someone you want on the same team as Devin Booker.


Amar’e Comparison

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, because I’ve seen this comparison thrown around a lot on multiple platforms and there are moments from singular plays where I aesthetically get where the comparison is coming from. The reality is if he really was the next Stoudemire, he’d be the consensus number one pick no questions asked... especially in this draft. When Amar’e was 22 years old, he was an NBA All-Star to put things in perspective. Toppin dominated college basketball as he should’ve at his age, and I don’t mean that to slight him or diminish what he did, but more-so to illustrate why this comparison is off in my opinion.

A cross between John Collins and Kyle Kuzma seems a like much more realistic pathway for him as far as role at the next level goes. I’m not very big into comparisons, but comparing roles and particular traits can be much more useful in evaluation.

I could be off here by all means, and maybe he winds up hitting an Amar’e-level outcome by clicking on all cylinders offensively and improving the lateral movement enough to offset his deficiencies on that side of the floor. The thing here is that in order for this to happen in today’s NBA, the reality is he’d have to primarily play center to hit this outcome, and the Suns already have their center in Deandre Ayton so I cannot see him hitting his optimal outcome in Phoenix.


Fit in Phoenix

Offensively I have no doubt the Suns could optimize Toppin due to the combination of shooting and playmaking they’d be able to surround him with. It’s the other side of the ball that concerns me. If you’re going to invest in someone in the lottery — especially an older prospect — you need to be confident in their ability to be able to close games for you in the playoffs when the time comes.

This is my overlying worry with Toppin, as I believe his lateral movement in the modern era will get him played off the court in critical junctures of the game. He will put up numbers. He will make the flashy plays. The question is: how much will he contribute to winning basketball when it matters most? Looking at the four teams that made the conference finals this year, how many players similar to Toppin are out there getting a ton of minutes?

Toppin will likely raise your floor, but limit your ceiling in the long-run. If he is there are 10, I wouldn’t hate the pick because I do think he would make them better in certain phases of the game nearly right away, but the positional headaches and potential defensive issues that ensue could cause issues down the road that will not be able to be ignored or swept under the rug.

Let’s be real here for a second. The Suns already have to worry about masking Devin Booker’s defensive struggles, so why add to the limitations on that side of the ball? Do you want two liabilities on that end? I’m not saying it’s impossible to build around those two, but it certainly would complicate some future roster decision-making.

If it sounds like this is a Toppin hate piece, it’s not. I like him. I think he has as good a shot at rookie of the year as anyone in this class and believe he’ll have a long NBA career. I just don’t enjoy the fit with the current roster infrastructure as I think about the big picture.


Spencer Pearlman of the Stepien and former Phoenix Suns Draft consultant listed the “potential outcomes” for him in his scouting report that I recommend you read for a fair evaluation of his game for better or worse: Obi Toppin Scouting Report.