When the Bulls lept from their pre-lottery No. 7 slot to the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, a world of options opened.
Trading up to nab a true top-of-the class prospect became feasible. Trading back to stack future assets became more prudent, given their higher starting point. And a fresh crop of potential targets became less pie-in-the-sky: LaMelo Ball. Anthony Edwards. Obi Toppin.
Toppin, specifically, is a polarizing player in analyst circles. He took home a litany of national player of the year awards (AP, Wooden, Naismith) and Atlantic 10 player of the year honors after posting 20-point and 7.5-rebound per game averages along with 63.3 percent field goal shooting (39 percent from 3) in his sophomore year at Dayton. And he was the best show in college basketball, producing fresh and explosive highlights with fastbreak windmills and stratospheric alley-oops seemingly every night. Dayton was 29-2 and ranked No. 3 in the country when the season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there persist questions regarding Toppin’s age (he turns 23 in March), on the defensive end, where his deficiencies moving laterally glared, and whether his production in the Atlantic 10 can be trusted to translate to the NBA.
Appearing on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast along with host Jason Goff, ESPN and Sirius XM’s Chris Spatola planted himself firmly on the latter side of the debate. He doesn’t see Toppin as a fit for the Bulls.
“I have no problem taking him (Toppin),” Spatola told Goff, speaking generally. “Especially if I'm Golden State, and I just want to plug a guy into a ready-made playoff team. But if I'm the Bulls and I'm trying to get a prospect here, somebody with a little more upside, I think you can find that outside of Obi Toppin.”
Spatola cited Toppin’s age as a worry for a rebuilding team like the Bulls, and the lackluster level of competition in the A10 as a concern when considering if the forward’s gaudy college production will translate, adding that he views Toppin as a solid role player-to-starter level player in the NBA.
“You're going to have a hard time figuring out exactly where you can use him offensively,” Spatola added. “People fell in love with the open floor dunks, going through his legs. He's not that athletic in the half court. They moved him around, they were able to do that in that league (the A10), use him in different ways...
“He's not great putting it on the floor. And to Anthony Grant (his coach at Dayton)’s credit, he used him in the post, he used him in the pick-and-roll. He put him in spots where Obi couldn't really screw it up. And again, Obi had good size, good length and a good skill set in that league. So, again, handling, breaking a guy down in the half court where everybody's loaded up, and then trying to get to the rim and finish. It's not to say he didn't. But it wasn't — every bang-bang you saw was in the open floor, oh my goodness, windmilling. He wasn't doing that stuff in the half court as much. You know, he was catching some lobs, catching off of other guys' penetration, etc.”
To Spatola’s point: In his sophomore season, 52.5 percent of Toppin’s field goal attempts came at the rim, with 66.7 percent of his makes at the rim being assisted on; 93.8 percent of Toppin’s 32 3-point makes for the season were assisted on as well. He did well to finish those opportunities, shooting a mind-bending 82.8 percent at the rim and 39 percent from 3 — he was prolifically efficient in every context. But it’s reasonable to question how his offensive creation projects to the NBA level, especially with a Bulls team that, as presently constructed, isn’t exactly flush with table-setters.
And the defense?
“Defensively, it's a concern,” Spatola said on the podcast. “He's a little bit stiff, he doesn't move laterally all that well. He's good north-south, not great laterally.”
In what many consider to be a weak class, add Toppin to the list of risk-reward analyses the Bulls’ front office will have to make before draft day arrives — whenever that might be.
Listen to Spatola’s full breakdown of Toppin’s game, LaMelo Ball’s NBA player comparisons, and he and Goff reflecting on the legacy of the late John Thompson, here or via the embedded player below: