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2020 NBA Draft scouting report: Obi Toppin

George Washington v Dayton Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, this time, we glance at Dayton’s Obi Toppin.

One of the most exciting players in 2020 draft class, Dayton’s Obi Toppin inspires for many an “eye of beholder” effect. To optimists, his athleticism and production make him one of the best bets for NBA value in the draft. For others, his defense and archetype limit his appeal as a lottery prospect.

A late bloomer, Toppin is already 22 years old despite being only a sophomore. Often compared to John Collins, it’s worth pointing out that Collins is less than a year older than Toppin despite having three years of NBA experience. While age is an important factor in prospect evaluation because of its relation to ceiling, Toppin could alleviate this somewhat by being an early contributor.

Toppin possesses a readymade NBA offensive game as an elite dual threat roll man, meaning he can both finish in the paint and make shots from deep, similar to the role that Collins plays for the Hawks. Toppin regularly finished highlight dunks at Dayton, becoming one of the most exciting players in the country en route to National Player of the Year honors.

Toppin led the country in Barttorvik’s version of Box Plus/Minus, an all-in-one metric that attempts to measure impact over 100 possessions. He also posted an elite true shooting percentage of 68.4%. However you cut it, Toppin was one of the most dominant players in college basketball.

However, it must be said that Toppin played in a very friendly offense under Dayton’s Anthony Grant, who is one of the best coaches in the country. In tandem with his defensive concerns, it’s possible that Toppin’s gaudy offensive numbers oversimplify his NBA projection.

These concerns aside, I think Toppin’s offensive skill set is perhaps the safest bet in the entire class. As long as he plays in a system that places a premium on pick-and-roll finishing and has good enough guard play to set the table for him, he could produce outstanding offensive numbers and elevate an offense.

Offensive Analysis

  • An awesome scoring big man, Toppin has incredible torque on dunks. With his ridiculous vertical pop and scoring touch, Toppin has the upside to be a 20-point scorer in the NBA. He shot a little under 80 percent around the basket on non-post-up attempts in half court per Synergy. Excellent scoring with excellent efficiency is very much in Toppin’s range of outcomes.
  • Shot 39 percent on 82 three-point attempts his final year at Dayton, showing potential to be a weapon in pick-and-pop with more development. Only 8 NCAA players 6’9 or taller shot at least 39% from 3 on at least 80 attempts. Already capable of making above-the-break threes, Toppin perhaps has room to grow as a shooter, similar to how Collins has developed in this area in the NBA.
  • In addition to being an elite pick-and-roll finisher, Toppin is also a smart passer, capable of finding shooters on the short roll. While not quite on the level of Xavier Tillman in this department, Toppin’s playmaking is a nice secondary skill and brings an extra wrinkle to his roll game. I’ve always felt that his passing ability is often overlooked when assessing his NBA upside — he can make some pretty passes on the move, from the post (where he’s also a good scorer), and pretty much anywhere. The upside of further development as a passer/shooter could give Toppin a higher ceiling than his age suggests.

Defensive Analysis

  • Simply put, Toppin requires a lot of work to simply become adequate as an NBA defender. In the interest of being concise, Toppin could use improvement in more or less all areas defensively. While he’s capable of blocking shots thanks to his vertical ability, he’s too often in poor positions. To bring up Collins once again, you would like to see Toppin make similar improvements over time, since Collins was also a poor defender in college. Due to his offensive impact, he doesn’t have to be even a positive here, simply survivable. The idea is not to erase his offensive contributions entirely. Adding value as a help side rim protector presents at least a path to viability.
  • While Toppin is an outstanding vertical/straight line athlete, he is the opposite laterally. He lumbers trying to keep up with nimble perimeter players. As a result, he is almost certainly not switchable without significant agility improvements. Again, you can live with Toppin being below average defensively, but in a worst case scenario he could wreck your defense when he’s on the floor. Although I’m optimistic about Toppin’s NBA projection in general, it would be negligent to not emphasize how much work must be done on the defensive end.

Fit with the Hawks

For the same reasons that Collins thrives in pick-and-roll with Trae Young, Toppin could also succeed. Toppin has all the attributes to be one of the league’s best play finishers. If he continues to improve as a shooter and a passer, I think he has the upside to be one of the best offensive big men in the league.

Defensively, it’s a completely different story. Hawks fans will be familiar with the work of Jabari Parker from last season, as lineups with Parker and Trae were successful offensively but poor lineups overall due to being untenable on defense. Similar concerns exist with Toppin. Already fielding one of the worst defenders in the game in Young, Toppin would compound the problem. Although I have little doubt that Young/Toppin lineups have excellent offensive upside, the other end has equal downside.

There is also the issue that Toppin is very duplicative of Collins. As such, the Hawks selecting Toppin at No. 6 overall would immediately spur speculation regarding the future of the Wake Forest product. In short, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to invest a pick so high on a player so similar to what you already have at the same position, although Toppin would certainly provide scoring pop for the bench as well as insurance for Collins.

Overall, I think Toppin has obvious ability to fit into what the Hawks want to do on offense, and thus makes sense as a draft selection on some level, but the redundancy of he and Collins together as well as his obvious defensive weakness should make him lower on their list of draft priorities. Still, enough upside exists to make him an option in a draft class that otherwise lacks star power. Whether Travis Schlenk finds this upside tempting enough to pull the trigger on Toppin remains to be seen.