The names are going to start to float around as NBA teams do more pre-draft work. Over the next few weeks, teams will get more clarity on when the draft is, and soon after, what the order will be. Then, inevitably, leaks will come out connecting team to player. Don’t be surprised when Obi Toppin comes up in rumors around the Suns.
1. The math adds up for the Suns and Toppin
To start, Toppin figures to be available near the place the Suns will draft. They’re currently in the tenth spot in the lottery. Things are pretty wobbly in the top 10, especially without the typical Combine and player workouts. Toppin could go as high as first overall but is expected to go somewhere between five and 10.
The high-end outcome for Toppin relies on him being seen as a safe option in a very uncertain draft. Remember: This is a year in which the mere salary of a top prospect could come into play, with the cap expected to go down significantly. That’s something we rarely talk about when it comes to the draft but signifies the differences in 2020.
2. There is significant staff overlap between Phoenix and Dayton
To understand this one, we have to make our way back to Oklahoma City. There, Monty Williams worked alongside several of his current assistants in Phoenix, including Darko Rajakovic, Mark Bryant and Billy Donovan Jr. On that same bench was Anthony Grant, taking a pit stop between running Alabama’s men’s basketball program and his time in Dayton.
Grant is not talked about as one of college basketball’s best coaches, but his track record is impressive. He worked under Billy Donovan when Florida won back-to-back championships, then kicked off the VCU run of the early-2010s, then jumped to Alabama for a rocky job before landing with the Thunder and then Dayton.
But again, OKC is where the Suns’ and Grant’s stories intersect. We already know Monty Williams taps into many resources with his young players, having hosted Arizona men’s coach Sean Miller at training camp in an effort to bridge the gap for Deandre Ayton. That he has direct experience working alongside Grant will go a long way during this process.
3. Toppin fits what the Suns’ front office has looked for in draft prospects
What do Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome have in common? Actually quite a bit. They’re both upperclassmen, older than their peers. They both are pretty great shooters relative to their size. They both come from blue blood programs and have a good head on their shoulders.
Literally every single one of those things also applies to Toppin. Dayton may not be a traditional blue blood but between Grant and Archie Miller, the program has been relevant for the better part of a decade at this point. Toppin is about as old and experienced as they come, having passed through a year of prep school as well as a redshirt season before two years of playing. He’s already 22.
The shooting is the biggest question mark. Toppin shot 39 percent from three this season but his release is slow and his form isn’t very tight. Because of his high center of gravity, he’s not a very agile player, so he has a long way to go before he’s running off screens in the half court. Toppin is a pure spot-up guy, which has value but isn’t an elite skill for him.
Considering the Suns still really needed shooting even with their 2019 offseason focus on it, there’s a chance Toppin isn’t quite good enough in that area to make do as the Suns’ starting power forward. Still, he’s about as picture-perfect a James Jones prospect as there is.
A ton of time separates this curious in-between phase for the NBA and the draft, which will take place in late summer or early fall. Perhaps clarity isn’t quite as big of a factor when the draft finally happens, what with how much homework NBA teams will be able to do now. They won’t be able to meet with players, but they will know everything they need to about their game and personality from the film and vetting processes.
And the Suns certainly surprised us last time around, so whatever the broad NBA trend is, no one would be crazy to expect the Suns to veer in the opposite direction. Yet at this point, whenever I start to consider Phoenix’s draft situation, it’s impossible not to end up back at Toppin.
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