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March Madness Preview: Obi Toppin

Dayton’s star forward/center will be exciting to watch in the tourney, and he is someone Suns’ fans should keep an eye on as they prepare for another lottery pick.

NCAA Basketball: Davidson at Dayton David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The time to exercise your bracketology skillset is upon us. March Madness is on the horizon and soon we will be consuming countless hours of collegiate basketball. For Suns fans, this is the time to begin scouting potential draft picks for our lottery-bound team as well.

The job James Jones has done constructing the Phoenix Suns roster is commendable. For the first time since the ‘14-’15 season the team has won more than 25 games. His focus on developing an identity and creating a culture has garnered results. He stabilized the point guard position with Ricky Rubio, created an environment that Kelly Oubre Jr. found appealing enough to sign with as a free agent, and displayed patience with the draft process by bringing in older collegiate players.

The team is headed in the right direction for the first time since Obama was the POTUS. There is hope. There is progression. There is direction. There is a core.

The team, however, is missing the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.

The ‘19-’20 campaign is nearing its conclusion. Soon the Suns will officially be eliminated from playoff contention and the countdown to Tuesday, May 19 will begin. That is the date in which the Suns will find out where they fall in the 2020 NBA Draft.

What will James Jones do with the pick? Will it be used as a tradable asset to acquire a big name? Will the Suns standfast and make the pick? Will he stick with his ‘I’m not drafting an 18 year-old’ strategy? Will they do the unthinkable and trade up?

Although we regularly reference that we believe James Jones should trade the pick on The Suns Report Podcast, it would not be above reason that the Suns make a selection come June 25. Perhaps there is a diamond in the rough that fits in with the team. Perhaps the key to unlocking a playoff appearance is a pick away.

It is clear that the 2020 draft class does not have the star power and sex appeal we are used to seeing. There are no first name phenoms coming out like Zion or Luka. On the surface, franchise changers like Morant, Young, or Ayton are not present either. Solid players do exist, however.

While we are watching our brackets bust, who should we as fans be tuning in to see? Who is the best fit for the Suns? There is one dude I believe is an ideal fit for the Phoenix Suns.

That dude is Obadiah Richard Toppin.

Obi Toppin, the forward/center for the University of Dayton, is an electric big that has skyrocketed onto the scene in recent months with his aggressive play and highlight dunks. He has length, explosiveness, and maturity; all which is an ideal fit with the Phoenix Suns.

His recent play has increased his draft value and soon his team will earn a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The redshirt sophomore has been the driving force behind the 29-2 Flyers’ season. Obi has dominated the Atlantic 10 Conference, and after winning A-10 Freshman of the Year honors last season, he finds himself in the top ten in nearly every statistical category.

Let’s start with the physical presence that is Obi Toppin. I am reminded of former Phoenix Suns all-star Amar’e Stoudemire when I see this kid. He is muscular yet agile, broad yet has finesse. He stands 6’9” and carries a wide 7’4” wingspan. Compare that to STAT, who stood 6’10” and had a 7’1” wingspan. Granted, Toppin weighs in at 220 pounds and Amar’e was 245 pounds, but make no doubt about it, Toppin is a man, dude.

The guy is long, athletic, and uses his physical force to dominate and intimidate. Watching his play brings the adjectives out of the bag: “dynamic”, “incendiary”, “electric”. Throw an, “oh damn” and a “he did what?!” and you’ve summed up the Obi Toppin experience.

The highlight reel dunks came to a head in a recent matchup with George Washington, as Toppin opted for a between-the-legs jam during a fastbreak.

His frame appears to be 100% muscle and he plays with the same ferocity that Amar’e once did. He’d prefer to go through you than around you.

Obi is an unpolished talent, however. His interior foot work will need work as will his shooting range. His shot is smoothe, but due to his aggressive nature, it is rarely used. When you play in the Atlantic 10 Conference, life is easier going directly to the rim.

He spins, he crosses over, he dunks, he Euro-steps, and he does all well. His ball handling is a little loose, which will be something guards in the NBA will swat at every chance they get. His passing is above average, doing so during the fastbreak, off his handle, and out of the post, and shirt roll passes with ease.

He has reasonable talent beyond the arc, shooting 39% this season on 2.6 attempts per game. Obi has shot a respectable 70% from the line this year as well. Again, opportunity exists to improve these percentages as basketball becomes his full time focus.

Spacing is another area of opportunity for the young forward. Toppin dominates the interior space on most nights he plays, which will be an adjustment as he transitions full time to a power forward.

Watching him play in the NCAA Tournament will reveal how well his skill set will transfer to the pros. It’s one thing playing at La Salle on a Thursday night in January. It’s quite another on the big stage of the tournament against a blue blood school coached by the guy who makes the most money in his home state. Expect double teams and pressure to consume Toppin as he navigates the tourney.

Obi Toppin’s value is rising fast as the nation gets to know the player behind the Flyers’ success. Bleacher Report’s latest mock draft predicts that he goes #8 to the Charlotte Hornets. If he puts on an impressive performance in March, he may find himself outside of the Suns reach.

Toppin, who turned 22 on March 4, fits James Jones “no 18 year-olds” draft strategy. On Draft Day 2019, Jones chose to bring in Cameron Johnson, a 23 year-old forward who had played in 135 collegiate games, with the team’s first pick. He backed that up by drafting Ty Jerome, a 22 year-old point guard who played in 3 collegiate seasons and won a National Championship.

Is this something that will continue with the 2020 NBA Draft? If the stars align, and if Toppin is available, I believe the Suns should take him. He will provide a physical presence coming off the bench that currently does not exist from the power forward position. He will most certainly be a project, but with his level of talent, it may not take long for him to come into form.

Imagine a high screen and roll between Rubio and Ayton. The defense begins to collapse on DeAndre. Cutting in hard from the baseline is Obi Toppin. Ricky provides a subtle bounce pass in his direction. Yeah, that’ll make SportsCenter.

Enjoy the madness that is March. Enjoy watching Obi Toppin.

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