Obi Toppin

Simons, Stanley, Toppin To Compete In Dunk Contest

Anfernee Simons of the Trail Blazers, Cassius Stanley of the Pacers, and Obi Toppin of the Knicks will compete for the annual Slam Dunk title at halftime of the All-Star game on Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the NBA announced in a press release.

Simons, a 6’3” guard, is averaging 8.2 PPG in his third NBA season. Stanley is a 6’5″ rookie guard on a two-way contract after being selected in the second round last fall. He recorded a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches in the 2020 draft combine. Toppin, a 6’9″ rookie forward and lottery pick, is averaging 4.6 PPG in 25 games off the bench.

The 3-Point Contest, which will be held prior to the game, has a lot more star power. Suns guard Devin Booker and Warriors guard Stephen Curry, former winners of the long-ball contest, head the list of participants. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Bulls’ Zach LaVine and the Jazz‘s Donovan Mitchell round out the six-man field.

The Skills Challenge, which will also be held prior to the game, also has plenty of All-Star firepower. Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Suns guard Chris Paul head that six-man listKnicks forward Julius Randle, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington round out the field.

Knicks Notes: Rose, Ntilikina, Toppin, Quickley

Derrick Rose has shown Knicks fans that he can still ignite an offense, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. With Elfrid Payton injured, Rose stepped into the starting lineup Thursday and scored 18 points as New York put up 140 in a win over Sacramento.

“My confidence has always been there even though I’m not the same player, reckless or explosive player,” said Rose, who is averaging 11.8 PPG in eight games since being acquired from the Pistons. “I feel like I’m skilled. I felt like I’ve been working on my game prior to having — I mean, after all my injuries it’s about just showing it and adapting.”

Popper notes that one of the initial fears among fans was that Rose’s addition might take away minutes from rookie guard Immanuel Quickley. Instead, Rose has adopted a mentor’s role and they have often played together in the backcourt. Tom Thibodeau, who also coached Rose in Chicago and Minnesota, has watched his game progress over the years.

“I think his quickness is the same,” Thibodeau said. “And obviously I think as players get older, what they do is they get experience and they add things to their games. So he’s a lot different than he was when he was 22. And obviously, that athleticism is different now. But he also has the knowledge of all the experiences he’s been through.”

There’s more on the Knicks:

  • Frank Ntilikina put up decent numbers Thursday after not playing in two months, but it won’t guarantee him more playing time, Popper adds in a separate story. Ntilikina posted seven points, three steals, two assists and a plus-17 rating in 23 minutes. However, Thibodeau is reluctant to expand his 10-man rotation, and Ntilikina is likely headed back to the bench when Payton returns.
  • An early injury and Julius Randle‘s breakout season have prevented Obi Toppin from making an impact as a rookie, but he may get to display his skills in the Slam Dunk Contest, Popper notes in another piece. Toppin was a prolific dunker in college and has been a fan of the event for years. “It’s been a lot of guys in the dunk contest that I’ve been watching through my life that have really good dunks,” he said. “If the time comes for me to be in it and they say I’m in the dunk contest I’ll have to do a lot of studying and hopefully come up with something nobody’s seen.”
  • The Knicks would benefit from inserting Quickley in their starting lineup, argues Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer. Thibodeau’s preferred starting unit has a negative net rating, but the number is much better when Quickley, rather than Payton, is on the floor with the four other starters.

Atlantic Notes: Pritchard, Brown, Toppin, Rose

Payton Pritchard has emerged as the top reserve on an otherwise thin Celtics bench, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps writes. Pritchard, who made six 3-pointers against Toronto on Thursday, has thrived as an off-the-ball guard whose shot opposing defenses have to respect. That provides Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with space to operate and the 26th pick in last year’s draft has also held his own defensively.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Brown is dealing with tendonitis in his left knee, radio show Toucher and Rich tweets. GM Danny Ainge said the team will keep close tabs on Brown’s knee issue. Brown has appeared in 22 of Boston’s 24 games entering Friday’s action, averaging 26 PPG in 33.2 MPG.
  • Knicks rookie forward Obi Toppin could reap benefits from playing with recently-acquired Derrick Rose, Steve Popper of Newsday notes. Toppin was fouled while dunking off a pass from Rose against Miami on Tuesday. Toppin could return to his rim-running ways in college, rather than be used a spot-up shooter. “Playing with him, he plays with speed. He looks to find guys,” Toppin said of Rose. “So playing with this team, period, is amazing, but Derrick, having him here now is amazing.”
  • The Knicks will start allowing a limited number of fans at Madison Square Garden on February 23 and Toppin is excited to finally play in front of a home crowd, he told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “We have the best fan base in the NBA,” he said. “It will be amazing to have fans. But safety is first. When that time comes for fans to be there we’ll love it.’

Knicks Notes: Thibodeau, Payton, Toppin, COVID-19

Tom Thibodeau deserves Coach of the Year consideration for the way he has transformed the Knicks, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. This afternoon’s win over Portland puts the team at 11-13, good for sixth place in the East a third of the way through the season. Bondy notes that every starter on this year’s team was also on last year’s squad, which began the season 4-18.

Thibodeau has instilled a defense-first mentality and has given more minutes to players who excel in that area. As a result, the Knicks are holding opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage in the league at 43.5%. They also allow the second-fewest points and have a defensive rating in the top seven.

“There’s not one particular thing when you look at the analytics — which everybody does — that there wasn’t one thing that really stood out other than the fact that teams do not shoot the ball well against them, which is ultimately the best metric to have,” said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “What I see is a team that plays hard, they play physical, they’re active, they’re aggressive. They go after loose balls. They’re a hard-nosed defensive team.”

There’s more Knicks news to pass along:
  • One of Thibodeau’s most controversial decisions has been to stick with Elfrid Payton as his starting point guard ahead of high-scoring rookie Immanuel Quickley, notes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Quickley scored 31 points against the Blazers last month, but he remained on the bench for the entire first quarter today as Thibodeau relied on Payton to match up with Damian Lillard. “The big thing is the defense,’’ Thibodeau said of Payton’s contributions. “That’s the biggest tone-setter for us. The defensive component. That’s his strength and helps his team when he starts on the ball. And to keep us organized offensively and be opportunities with scoring opportunities.”
  • First-round pick Obi Toppin broke into a huge smile when asked about participating in a dunk contest if the league holds one along with its All-Star game, Berman adds in the same story. Toppin’s playing time has been limited in his first NBA season, but he was a prolific dunker in college. “The dunk contest, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,’’ Toppin said. “I don’t want to just give you all answers, but hopefully I might be able to be there. Maybe not. So we’re just going to have to wait and see.’’
  • While COVID-19 has caused havoc for many NBA teams, the Knicks haven’t had any players miss a game due to the virus, according to Steve Popper of Newsday.

Knicks Notes: Toppin, Knox, Houston, Robinson

While 25th overall pick Immanuel Quickley has shown signs he could be the Knicks’ answer at point guard, lottery pick Obi Toppin has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start to his NBA career, Mike Vornukov of The Athletic writes. The No. 8 pick is averaging 12.0 MPG after coming into the draft with the reputation as the most NBA-ready player in his class, Vornukov points out. Part of the problem is he’s been used as a big wing, rather than as a rim runner and pick-and-roll threat, Vornukov adds.

We have more on the Knicks:

  • Kevin Knox vows to stay positive despite the fact he’s fallen out of the rotation, Peter Botte of the New York Post writes. “I’m going to continue to be ready, because anything can happen, at any moment, any given time,” Knox said. “So I want to make sure that I’m ready. I’ll continue to get my reps up, continue to shoot the ball well, focus a lot on defense, watch a lot of film, so when they do call my number and my time does come, I’m ready.”
  • Allan Houston’s new front office title is Vice President, Player Leadership & Development, Ian Begley of SNY tweets. Last season, Houston was GM for the organization’s G League affiliate in Westchester. He was also a former assistant GM in the organization. Pops Mensah-Bonsu is now Director of Minor League Operations, Begley adds.
  • Center Mitchell Robinson reminds coach Tom Thibodeau of a young Joakim Noah, Steve Popper of Newsday writes. “(Noah) started off as a defensive player, an energy guy, a guy who ran the floor well,” Thibodeau said. “He was an excellent passer, decision maker, very good with dribble handoffs and I think that’s a part of Mitch’s game that can grow. And so we’ll challenge him in that way.”

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Walker, Irving, Toppin

After having three straight games postponed due to coronavirus issues, the Celtics will likely be able to return to the court Friday night, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. All-Star forward Jayson Tatum will remain sidelined after testing positive last week, but four other players are expected to receive clearance in time for the game against Orlando.

“I don’t think there’s an easy answer here,” coach Brad Stevens said after today’s shootaround, which marked the first time his players have been on the court together since Sunday. “This is a difficult time around the country. This pandemic is as rampant as it’s ever been and obviously we’re feeling some of that despite the great precautions and great steps we’re taking not to.”

The NBA is dealing with its worst stretch of COVID-19 issues since the season began. Nine games have been postponed so far, with eight of those coming this week. The league is considering expanded testing that would provide same-day results on game days.

“We’re like everyone else,” Stevens said. “We appreciate the opportunity to gather. We appreciate the opportunity to be together. We appreciate the opportunity to play the game we love and when it’s taken away for a week or four months that’s hard. And the rest of the world’s dealing with that in every which way, so for us to complain about it … would be insensitive to everything else that’s going on in the world.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Celtics guard Kemba Walker is getting closer to making his season debut, tweets Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Stevens said Walker, who has been sidelined by soreness in his left knee, went “full” in today’s session, which was focused on drills.
  • Just as coach Steve Nash did Wednesday, Nets general manager Sean Marks refused to get into specifics about Kyrie Irving‘s absence during a session with reporters today, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Irving is away from the team for personal reasons and there’s no set date for his return. “I don’t want to speculate and say why he’s out,” Marks said. “I’ve had conversations with him. I’ll continue to have conversations. … You also hope there is a more than adequate excuse as to why he needs personal time. He will address that without a doubt.”
  • Knicks rookie Obi Toppin returned Wednesday after missing three weeks with a strained left calf, but he only played 57 seconds, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “I’m super excited to be back,” Toppin said before the game. “I’m a little rusty. But I’ll be ready when Coach calls my name.”
  • Knicks free agent addition Taj Gibson received a rest-of-season veteran’s minimum contract, Berman adds in the same story.

New York Notes: Durant, Irving, Toppin, Gibson

Star forward Kevin Durant has yet to play both halves of a back-to-back set this season, as the Nets have made an effort to ease him back into the regular season schedule following his year-long absence due to an Achilles tear.

However, after leading the team to a comeback victory over Denver on Tuesday night, Durant is prepared to play the Knicks in New York tonight, as Brian Lewis of The New York Post details.

“I plan on it,” he said.

As of Tuesday night, head coach Steve Nash wasn’t ready to fully commit to having Durant available on Wednesday, cautioning that the Nets have to “judge these things day-to-day and moment-to-moment.” However, the team listed the two-time Finals MVP as available on its latest injury report today.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two New York teams ahead of their game tonight:

  • There’s “real concern” around the league from people who know Kyrie Irving about his ongoing absence, says Joe Vardon of The Athletic. The Nets guard, who was spotted on a Zoom call for a Manhattan District Attorney candidate on Tuesday evening, will face a quarantine period when he returns, assuming the NBA finds he violated COVID-19 protocols by attending a large gathering to celebrate a family member’s birthday. Having previously reported that Irving isn’t expected back this week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (video link) suggests the star guard may not be active next week either.
  • The Knicks have unexpectedly upgraded Obi Toppin (calf) to probable for Wednesday’s game (Twitter link). The rookie forward said he was just cleared for contact today and hasn’t yet practiced in full, tweets Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll actually see much – or any – action tonight, says Marc Berman of The New York Post (Twitter link).
  • Taj Gibson will be available for the Knicks on Wednesday night, as Berman writes for The New York Post. The recently-signed big man is reportedly in shape, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll play an immediate role.

Knicks Notes: Gibson, Toppin, Ntilikina, Hayward

The Knicks signed Taj Gibson to a rest-of-season contract last Thursday, according to NBA.com’s official transactions log. However, the veteran big man hasn’t been able to play for the team yet due to COVID-19 protocols, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. It’s possible that Gibson will be able to join the club for Wednesday’s game against Brooklyn, Berman says.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Obi Toppin (calf) and Frank Ntilikina (knee) aren’t yet close to returning, according to Berman. Toppin hasn’t been cleared for contact, while Ntilikina may not be back at practice until next week.
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau pushed to sign Gordon Hayward in free agency in November, but the team ultimately felt the price was too high, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. With the Knicks in Charlotte on Monday, Thibodeau acknowledged that Hayward was “rated pretty high on our (free agent) board,” while the Hornets forward said there was “a lot of interest on both sides.”
  • The Knicks aren’t as good as their 5-3 start suggested, but they seem refreshingly free of dysfunction this season, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com, who says the franchise finally seems to be building the right way with the right people.

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Robinson, Ibaka, Toppin

Nets coach Steve Nash contends that the schedule for All-Star forward Kevin Durant‘s return from his COVID-19 protocol-necessitated quarantining is a “moving target,” according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. On Tuesday, Durant commenced his quarantine, per NBA health and safety protocols, after being exposed to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The belief was that the quarantine would last seven days.

“My understanding is that it is a quarantine, so I don’t think there will be any on-court activity,” Nash said. “There’s negative tests, days from the contact tracing and all sorts of factors that go into it. So, I don’t really have an answer yet on how long.” The Nets crushed the Jazz 130-96 in their first test without Durant.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has been improving his efforts to avoid foul calls, Greg Joyce of the New York Post reports. “It’s actually, like, nobody wants to get yelled at by the coaches, so I’ve been just trying to maintain that the best way that I can,” Robinson said. “I’ve been working on it.” The young big man is averaging 3.0 fouls per game in 29.6 MPG, a marked improvement over his 3.2 fouls in 23.1 MPG during the 2019/20 season.
  • Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster apparently frustrated free agent center/power forward Serge Ibaka when the club offered him a number below what he was hoping for in an attempt to leave some cap space to re-sign starting center Marc Gasol, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet. Toronto bumped its one-year offer from $12MM to $14MM, but Ibaka apparently also did not want to continue being a backup to Gasol. Both players wound up departing for cheaper deals with Los Angeles title contenders, and the 1-5 (as of this writing) Raptors appear to be missing the two-way skill set of their championship frontcourt tandem.
  • Following an evaluation yesterday, Knicks power forward Obi Toppin will begin running and jumping as he continues to rehabilitate from a right calf strain, according to Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic (Twitter link). After this, Toppin will subsequently move on to on-court workouts. The rookie hurt the calf in the club’s December 23 opening night bout against the Pacers. “He’s making good progress and we just have to be patient,” new head coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Obi Toppin Out 7-10 Days With Strained Calf

Knicks rookie forward Obi Toppin has a strained right calf and will be re-evaluated in seven to 10 days, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Toppin suffered the injury in the team’s first game Wednesday at Indiana, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. Toppin was held out of practice Thursday and didn’t play in tonight’s home opener.

The Knicks were thrilled that Toppin, the reigning Naismith Award winner, was still available with the eighth pick. However, he wasn’t effective in his first regular season game, shooting just 3-of-12 before the injury.

“Yeah, he’s a work in progress,” coach Tom Thibodeau said afterward. “There’s some things he’s doing really well. I think each game he’ll get better and better, each day he’ll get better and better. He’s nicked up a little bit right now, so missing practice. You can’t really do anything in practice, but study and learn and that’s what he’s doing.”