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Dayton's High-Flyer Enters Draft as College Hoops Most Accomplished Player
The first two Draft prospects featured on Cavs.com were unknown commodities to casual basketball fans. James Wiseman’s college career was limited to 70 minutes and, unless you stream the Israeli Basketball Premier League, you probably haven’t seen many of Deni Avdija’s performances.
Today’s prospect is different.
Today’s prospect has the bona fides - he’s got the numbers, he’s got the personality and, yes, he’s got the name.
Obi Toppin was arguably the most recognizable name in college hoops last season, and with good reason. He was the AP, Wooden and Naismith Player of the Year and the University of Dayton’s first consensus All-American. He was the only player in the nation to average at least 20.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and shoot 60 percent from the floor. He led the NCAA in dunks.
He was also one of the country’s most efficient players, averaging 20 points per despite just averaging 12.5 shots per game. Overall, he shot 63 percent from the floor, 39 percent from deep and 70 percent from the stripe.
Toppin’s individual success directly impacted the Flyers – who were ranked No. 3 when the regular season wrapped up, their highest ranking since 1955-56, taking a 29-2 overall mark and undefeated conference record into what UD hoped would be a prolonged run in the NCAA Tournament. Toppin would be the first Flyer picked in the first round since Jim Paxson back in 1979.
Instead, the basketball world (and beyond) came to a screeching halt in early March – and the sophomore forward from Brooklyn turned his focus to the 2020 Draft.
Toppin played the 5 for Anthony Grant last year at Dayton, but at 6-9 with a wing-like skill-set, projects as a power forward at the pro level.
College basketball’s most accomplished player expects to be a top 10 – and possibly top 5 – pick on November 18. He’s an electric, energetic big man who can run the floor, stretch the floor, destroy the rim and block shots. He’ll also bring a great personality befitting his high selection.
In less than a month, will the former Flyer still be around when the Cavs are on the clock – and is there a chance he could stay in-state?
STRENGTHS For all the talk of a player’s “upside” in recent Drafts, here’s one who’s shown everyone exactly what he can do. Scouts have seen Toppin’s progression from his freshman to his sophomore season. He’s continued to develop physically and, despite his extensive resume, is still seen as a late bloomer.
Toppin’s offensive game is already polished – both around the basket and on the perimeter. He’s simply a beast around the rim, throwing down highlight dunks off the break, on lobs and put-backs. With a school-record 107 dunks this past season, he was college hoops most prodigious vertical athlete.
As impressive as Toppin is around the rim, he’s almost as good on the perimeter. Over the course of his career at Dayton, Toppin shot 42 percent from three-point range; 39 percent on 2.6 attempts-per-game from deep this past season. He’s not as accurate off the dribble, but even in today’s game, teams don’t need their bigs to do that.
For his size, Toppin’s a solid ball-handler with both hands and a very good passer. Although he finished with more total turnovers than assists, he still averaged 2.2apg this past season.
Toppin has a unique build with high shoulders and, despite just an average wingspan measurement, plays bigger than his height. He can out-muscle smaller defenders and was too quick for bigger centers.
Toppin played in an NBA-style system at Dayton and should be very comfortable taking his offensive game to the next level.
WEAKNESSES The aforementioned “upside” is always a concern for a high lottery pick who’ll turn 23 before the completion of his rookie year.
The other concern about Toppin is another dreaded Draft term – that he could be a “tweener”: not big enough to compete with true NBA centers and not quick enough to run with more athletic powers forwards and wings. Toppin was a beast for Dayton, but the Flyers only played two top 25 schools – and bigger centers gave Toppin trouble on the defensive end.
The defensive end is where Toppin will have to prove himself at the pro level. He’s a tremendous vertical athlete, but not quick laterally or with change of pace direction making him vulnerable on the perimeter.
Physically, aside from the average wingspan, Toppin will need to add strength to his lower body. One of the knocks on him was a lack of physicality. In that vein, Toppin is a good-but-not-great rebounder, but still has room for improvement.
Despite being a solid shot-blocker, Toppin doesn’t project as the proverbial “plus” defender, but he was asked to do so much of UD’s offensive heavy lifting that some defensive miscues were manageable.
HOW HE'D FIT The Cavaliers collection of bigs that ended last season was among the league’s best. Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond and Larry Nance Jr. proved to be a handful.
Whether that quartet returns intact or not, Toppin would be a welcome addition to Cleveland’s frontline. He can stretch the floor or be dynamic on the block. Imagine the acceleration of the young guards’ growth having a weapon like Toppin working above the rim.
If the Wine & Gold are looking to shore up a defense that’s struggled over the past couple seasons, Toppin is not going to help right away. But having better players around him and in a system where he’s asked to do less offensively could help him sharpen those skills.
Finally, Toppin is, by all accounts, a great young kid and strong leader – someone who worked his way up from being lightly-recruited out of high school (who didn’t dunk until his senior year) to college basketball’s best player and a top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Does that sound like the type of player who might fit in here in Cleveland?