Obi Toppin

Knicks Notes: Walker, Randle, Toppin, Grimes, Reddish

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said earlier this week he didn’t want Kemba Walker to return to action until the point guard was confident he could play on a regular basis. Even though Walker returned on Tuesday and scored 19 points in 30 minutes against Minnesota, the veteran guard didn’t make any promises about his future availability, according to Peter Botte of the New York Post.

“We’ll see. We’ll see down the line,” Walker said. “It really just depends on how I feel.”

We have more on the Knicks:

  • The team and star forward Julius Randle haven’t lived up to expectations and it’s unlikely that will change, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps writes. Randle hasn’t come close to reproducing the offensive efficiency he displayed last season, the defense has been subpar, and difference-maker Derrick Rose is out with an injury. As one Eastern Conference executive told Bontemps, “Everything fell into place for them last year, and they haven’t been able to repeat it.”
  • Obi Toppin has seen his playing time plummet in recent games, Botte notes. Toppin, the team’s 2020 lottery pick, has averaged just 11.3 MPG over the past eight contests. He’s averaging 7.7 PPG and 3.7 RPG in 15.8 MPG during his second season.
  • Quentin Grimes has earned more playing time even with several veterans returning to action recently, Steve Popper of Newsday writes. Grimes doesn’t put up big stats but Thibodeau has played Grimes a minimum of 17 minutes in all but one game this month. “Grimes has been playing great basketball,” Thibodeau said of the first-round rookie guard. “But it’s just step by step. You earn your minutes here. What you do in practice. You have to wait for your opportunity and when your opportunity comes, be ready to go.”
  • Newly-acquired Cam Reddish is close to making his Knicks debut, Marc Berman of the New York Post tweets. Thibodeau said Reddish will be ready to return from an ankle sprain “any day now.”

Knicks Notes: Walker, Quickley, Grant, Randle

The Knicks are paying the price for counting on a pair of point guards in their 30s who have a history of health issues, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. The team entered the season with Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose atop its depth chart at the point, but Walker has missed time recently due to knee problems and Rose is out indefinitely following ankle surgery.

As Bondy outlines, playing without a reliable point guard has created some additional offensive problems for the Knicks, who have the NBA’s 23rd-most efficient offense and rank last in the Eastern Conference in assists per game.

“The defense has pretty much been there,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after a weekend loss in which the Knicks scored just 75 points in Boston. “It’s the offense has been inconsistent.”

New York’s injury absences have resulted in Immanuel Quickley taking on more point guard responsibilities as of late, notes Steve Popper of Newsday. Thibodeau lauded the second-year guard for the progress he has made in that role while acknowledging there’s still work to do.

“There’s stretches in the game where you have to settle the team down and get the team organized,” Thibodeau said of Quickley. “I think that will come in time. The more he does it the better he’ll get at it. I love his versatility. You can play him with the ball, you can play him off the ball, and that’s what makes him so valuable to us.”

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Thibodeau said on Monday that Walker is getting “close” to returning to action from what the team has called a sore left knee, Popper writes for Newsday. Asked whether Kemba remains sidelined due to healing or conditioning, Thibodeau replied, “Probably a little bit of both. Each day he’s doing a little bit more. The main thing was letting his knee calm down. It’s done that and now ramping it up again.”
  • Following up on Shams Charania’s report on New York’s interest in Pistons forward Jerami Grant, Fred Katz and James L. Edwards III of The Athletic consider whether the 27-year-old would be a good fit for the Knicks and what a trade might look like. The Athletic’s duo suggests a hypothetical package of Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin, and the Knicks’ 2022 first-round pick (lightly protected), but observes that a three-for-one swap could be tricky for Detroit to accommodate.
  • Last season’s Most Improved Player has seen his numbers dip so far this season and has shot just 36.7% (19.4% on threes) since Christmas, but the Knicks remain confident in Julius Randle‘s ability to battle through adversity. “I don’t want anyone get wrapped up in any personal dilemmas or any of that stuff,” Thibodeau said on Monday without directly mentioning Randle (link via Ian O’Connor of The New York Post). “…There are going to be ups and downs throughout the course of the year. You’ve got to be mentally tough when you face adversity. Everyone does, right? It’s probably the most important thing in life. Sometimes it goes our way, sometimes it doesn’t. Just navigate through it all.”

Knicks Notes: Randle, Toppin, Fournier, Trade Deadline, Barrett

After a slow start to the season, Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle says he’s not concerned with the reactions from the media or fans, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

I really don’t give a f— what anybody has to say, to be honest,” Randle said Wednesday. “I’m out there playing. Nobody knows the game out there better than I do, compared to what everybody has to say. So I really don’t give a s—. I just go out there and play.”

Randle scored 30 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out four assists in New York’s 104-94 victory over Indiana on Tuesday, his first game back after contracting COVID-19. His season averages of 19.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG, and 4.9 APG on .423/.327/.767 shooting are down from last season’s All-Star campaign, when he averaged 24.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 6.0 APG on .456/.411/.811 shooting.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • In a member-only article for the New York Post, Marc Berman spoke to NBA experts to explore what has been hindering Obi Toppin‘s three-point shot. The second-year forward has carved out a rotational role off the bench this season, but is shooting just 21.1% from deep on 1.7 attempts per game.
  • Free agent addition Evan Fournier had been struggling of late, but coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t consider sending him to the bench, according to Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post. “Not really,” Thibodeau said Wednesday, when asked if he had considered trying Fournier with the second unit. Never known for his defense, Fournier was shooting a career-low 40.3% from the field through 37 games this season, all starts. “Even when he’s not shooting, he spaces the floor for us, so I do like that aspect,” Thobodeau said. “The one thing [is] about trying to get our second unit to stay intact as much as we can. Those guys have played really well together for a while now.” Fournier justified Thibodeau’s faith by erupting for 41 points against Boston on Thursday.
  • Thibodeau was a driving force behind the team signing Fournier in the offseason, sources tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, who explores moves the Knicks might consider making at the trade deadline. Fischer notes that the Knicks have had internal discussions about acquiring Ben Simmons, but they’ve never called the Sixers with any type of deal structure, according to league sources. Fischer also writes that freeing a roster spot by becoming involved in the Rajon Rondo trade gives New York added flexibility ahead of the deadline.
  • In order for the Knicks to become a legitimate title contender, the team needs 21-year-old RJ Barrett to develop into a star, Ian O’Connor of the New York Post opines. Like Randle, Barrett had a strong performance on Tuesday, scoring 32 points, but his shooting percentages are down this season compared to last. Barrett banked in a game-winning three at the buzzer to beat the Celtics 108-105 on Thursday night.

Knicks Notes: Toppin, Walker, McBride, Protocols

Knicks fans have been calling for Obi Toppin to get more playing time, but he put up disappointing numbers Friday in his first career start, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Replacing Julius Randle, who is in health and safety protocols, Toppin scored just five points in 27 minutes in a loss at Oklahoma City.

“The second unit, those guys play well together,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The big part of it is (Toppin) running the floor. When you have Alec (Burks), Derrick (Rose) and (Immanuel) Quickley throwing the ball ahead and getting those easy buckets, it gets you into a rhythm and easy scores. It’s his first game starting. You have to be ready to go. That intensity, you can’t ease into the game. You (have) got to go.’’

Toppin has shown improvement in his second NBA season, with his averages of 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game roughly doubling what he did as a rookie. He has been part of a bench unit that has frequently outplayed the team’s starting five, and he believes he can succeed as a starter if given more time.

“This is the first time all of us have played together on the court, the stating five,’’ Toppin said. “We had to find a rhythm. With everything going on, with new people starting, new people coming off the bench, we all haven’t played with each other a lot.’’

There’s more on the Knicks:

  • Kemba Walker was a late scratch for Friday’s game after experiencing pain in his left knee, Berman adds in a separate story. Berman notes that the decision to hold Walker out was made during pre-game and it comes after he played both ends of a back-to-back this week. “He started his warm-up, and then he stopped,” said Thibodeau, who isn’t sure how long Walker might be sidelined. “And then (trainer) Anthony (Goenaga) was looking at him and just felt, let’s get him examined, and then we’ll go from there.’’
  • The loss of Walker led to the first career start for rookie Miles McBride, who learned of the assignment about an hour before game time, Berman notes in another piece“I wanted to step up and do the best I could,’’ said McBride, who exited the protocols earlier this week. “I’m still trying to get in a rhythm. The whole team is — with guys going down. It just happened like that. I couldn’t do a lot of thinking or reacting. I had to go with the flow.’’ 
  • The Knicks currently have two starters and three assistant coaches in the health and safety protocols, and Thibodeau tells Steve Popper of Newsday that the team is doing its best to adjust. “There’s nothing you can do other than follow the guidelines,” he said. “You want everyone to be healthy. You want them to be safe. That’s your first concern. Forget the basketball part of it, take care of it yourself.”

Knicks Notes: Walker, McBride, Rose, Barrett, Toppin

Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Kemba Walker‘s banishment from the Knicks‘ rotation may have been a blessing in disguise, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic. Walker admits he wasn’t aggressive enough at times to start the season.

I just have a tendency of kind of not wanting to step on toes,” Walker said. “I think that’s what I did early on. I was here and I wasn’t being as aggressive, I think, as I could have been. But I think being out and seeing how the game has been flowing and going put me in a different mindset.”

Walker and the rest of the team’s starters struggled mightily in Wednesday’s 94-85 victory over the depleted Pistons, as the Knicks were carried once again by the bench group, all of whom finished with a plus/minus of at least plus-27. Walker had two points, two rebounds, two assists and three turnovers in 20 minutes.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Prior to Wednesday’s game, Marc Berman of The New York Post suggested that rookie Miles McBride may face a diminished role, given Walker’s strong recent play. However, that wasn’t the case against Detroit — in his first game back from the COVID-19 protocols, McBride logged 25 minutes in the team’s victory, leading the team in plus/minus at plus-39 while Walker struggled.
  • Head coach Tom Thibodeau says Derrick Rose is recovering well from ankle surgery and that he’s confident in the Knicks’ guard play, Berman writes in another article for The New York Post.
  • RJ Barrett is trying to regain his shooting stroke after a bout with COVID-19, per Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Barrett is eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason, and how he finishes the rest of the season could have a major impact on the size of his contract, Bondy opines.
  • It’s clear the Knicks need to give Obi Toppin a lot more minutes than he has received so far this season, even if those minutes eat into Julius Randle‘s playing time, Ian O’Connor of The New York Post contends. In Wednesday’s win over Detroit, Toppin was an incredible plus-36 in 22 minutes, while Randle was a minus-27 in 26 minutes.

Atlantic Notes: J. Johnson, Schröder, Griffin, Toppin

Joe Johnson is excited to resume his NBA career in the same place it started 20 years ago, writes Patrick McAvoy of NESN. After three years out of the league, Johnson signed a 10-day contract with the Celtics, who selected him with the 10th pick in the 2001 draft. Johnson only played 48 games in Boston before being traded to the Suns, but he says it has a feeling of home.

“Man, I’m just going to enjoy the moment. It’s almost like a familiar place but I was only here for about six months my rookie year and I got traded,” Johnson said. “But you know it’s fun, there’s still a lot of familiar faces out there for the organization and I was surprised to see. It’s good to see some familiar faces and good to be in a familiar place.”

Johnson told reporters he wasn’t ready to play 5-on-5 basketball last year, but he spent the past 12 months working on conditioning, tweets Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Johnson was spending time with his daughter on Tuesday when his agent called and said the Celtics might be interested, adds Jay King of The Athletic (Twitter link). The agent called back 30 or 40 minutes later and told him to get on a plane.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Dennis Schröder will represent the first major trade deadline decision for new Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, King states in a full story. Schröder has been productive in his first season with the team, averaging 16.8 points and 4.7 assists per game, but he’s on a one-year bargain contract and Boston will be limited to an offer beginning at about $7MM this summer. King notes that Schröder also takes playing time away from Payton Pritchard, who is among the team’s best shooters.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak that has strained the Nets‘ roster gave Blake Griffin a chance to revive his season, per Mark W. Sanchez of The New York Post. Griffin was out of the rotation when the virus hit, but with only eight active players he logged a season-high 32 minutes Saturday night. He has played better since returning to the lineup five games ago and could see regular minutes once the roster is back to normal. “Blake’s played great,” coach Steve Nash said. “Like I’ve said to him, we know there’s always something around the corner, so although he was out of the rotation for a little while, we knew something would happen and he’d get his opportunity again, and he’s a pro. Worked his butt off, stayed in shape, found a rhythm. He’s playing good basketball.”
  • The Knicks, who have also been decimated by the virus, got good news today with Obi Toppin clearing health and safety protocols, the team announced (Twitter link).

Knicks Notes: Knox, Fournier, Walker, Toppin

Forward Kevin Knox entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Thursday, becoming the fourth Knicks player to do so within the last week, per an announcement from the team (via Twitter). Knox joins RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes in the protocols and will be unavailable for at least 10 days or until he returns two consecutive negative COVID-19 tests at least 24 hours apart.

It’s unfortunate timing for Knox, who played 49 total minutes in the Knicks’ last two games after having logged just 22 minutes across six games in the first seven-plus weeks of the regular season. We’ll see if he gets a chance to earn playing time once he clears the protocols and is available again.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • As Steve Popper of Newsday writes, determining a starting lineup and rotation with a COVID-depleted roster was already turning a challenge for head coach Tom Thibodeau, who will now be down one more player for at least the team’s Thursday game in Houston.
  • Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker became trade-eligible on Wednesday, and while Mark W. Sanchez of The New York Post could imagine the Knicks moving Walker by February 10, he says it’s more difficult to envision a deal involving Fournier, who is in the first season of a four-year contract. For what it’s worth, another report this week indicated there’s very little interest around the league in Walker.
  • In his latest mailbag for The Athletic, Fred Katz explores the Knicks’ defensive struggles, what’s next for Kemba, and whether there’s room for Obi Toppin to take on a larger role.

Knicks Notes: Duarte, Toppin, Barrett, Walker

The Knicks passed on a chance to give Chris Duarte a guarantee in this year’s draft, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. A source tells Berman that Duarte’s representatives were seeking a promise from New York before Duarte conducted any personal workouts that he would be selected with the 19th pick. The Knicks declined, so Duarte proceeded with his workout schedule and was eventually taken at No. 13 by the Pacers.

Duarte has been one of this season’s top rookies, becoming a starter in Indiana and averaging 13.3 points per game. At 24, he was the oldest prospect in the draft and may have fallen a few more spots without the workouts. Duarte was born in the Dominican Republic, and people close to him say he was interested in playing in New York because of the city’s significant Dominican population, Berman writes.

Duarte was held 0ut of the draft combine and didn’t begin his workouts until late in the process. A source tells Berman that the Pacers were sold on Duarte after watching him work out alongside Corey Kispert, Cameron Thomas and Ziaire Williams.

There’s more from New York:

  • Obi Toppin has been much better in his second season, including a 19-point, 10-rebound performance Friday, but coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t thinking about putting him in the starting lineup, Berman states in a separate story. Any move with Toppin would be on hold now that he’s in the league’s health and safety protocols, and Thibodeau wants to keep the starting unit stable for a while after recently inserting Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel. Asked about a potential pairing of Toppin and Julius Randle, Thibodeau responded, “(It’s) very good offensively. Defensively, we lose the rim protection and rebounding. You’re sacrificing that part of the game which is critical. But I like the speed and the way they are playing.’’
  • A rookie-scale extension for RJ Barrett next summer has gotten less likely since the season began, says Fred Katz of The Athletic. Barrett’s inconsistent play might make the front office think it’s safer to negotiate with him as a restricted free agent in 2023 than to give him a big-money deal after this season.
  • Kemba Walker‘s benching could lead to his second buyout in less than a year, Katz adds. He doesn’t believe the Knicks would attach an asset to Walker to get another team to take him and it’s hard to envision Walker, who is under contract through next season, accepting a permanent role on the bench if that’s what it becomes.

Obi Toppin Placed In Protocols

Obi Toppin is in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and will miss at least Sunday’s game against Milwaukee, the Knicks announced (via Twitter).

The second-year forward is averaging 8.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.9 minutes per night in 26 games. He is coming off one of the best performances of his career, with 19 points and 10 rebounds Friday against the Raptors.

There’s no word on whether Toppin tested positive for the virus, but if he did he will miss at least 10 days unless he returns two consecutive negative tests a minimum of 24 hours apart.

Toppin is the first Knicks player this season to be sidelined due to COVID-19.

New York Notes: Claxton, Kemba, Noel, Thibs

The return of springy young Nets big man Nicolas Claxton to action could help improve the uneven play of All-Star shooting guard James Harden, says Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post. Claxton, much like Harden’s former Rockets running mate Clint Capela, can serve as a prime rim-rolling recipient of Harden lobs. Claxton has appeared in just six Brooklyn games for the 2021/22 season due to a non-COVID-19 illness.

“It would be great to get Nic going again, getting him fully functioning again,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said of Claxton’s return. “We saw him Friday night and obviously it looked like he hadn’t played in a while, was fouling and just a little out of rhythm. And that’s normal for a guy who has had that much of a layoff, lost a bunch of weight, is trying to get himself back in shape. By the end of the year, we would love Nic to be a great add to what we do on both ends of the floor.”

On Tuesday night, in a 102-99 defeat of the Mavericks, Claxton suited up for nearly 21 minutes off the bench. The 6’11” big man logged six points and nine boards in just his second game back from his illness.

There’s more out of the Big Apple:

  • The Knicks would likely consult Kemba Walker were they to seriously consider trading the veteran point guard, per Ian Begley of Walker, a former four-time All-Star with the Hornets and Celtics, has been demoted from starter to DNP-CD, and has not suited up for New York at all since November 26. The 31-year-old is averaging career lows of 11.7 PPG, 3.1 APG and 2.6 RPG.
  • Knicks center Nerlens Noel returned to New York’s starting lineup, replacing Mitchell Robinson in the role, ahead of Tuesday night’s 121-109 victory over the 8-15 Spurs, per Steve Popper of Newsday. Noel took and made just one field goal, but also chipped in eight rebounds, three dimes, one steal and a block in the win. Robinson, meanwhile, enjoyed a terrific night with the second unit, notching 11 points and 14 boards. The Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory and returned to .500 on the season with a 12-12 record. Robinson conceded that, as a result of an offseason surgery and subsequent weight gain, he has struggled with his conditioning, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News“I’m getting tired real quick,” Robinson said before Tuesday’s game. “I run for about six or seven minutes, and then boom — I’m gassed. So it’s something I need to work on real bad … I wish I could jump right back into it and be who I was before the injury.”
  • Much like his former boss Jeff Van Gundy in the 1998/99 NBA season, current Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau may have to figure out major rotational changes to improve the up-and-down Knicks this year, per Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post. Among those adjustments, Vaccaro suggests potentially exploring more run for emerging second-year power forward Obi Toppin and rookie shooting guard Quentin Grimes, and possibly reducing the role of defensive sieve Evan Fournier, whom New York added on a four-year, $78MM contract via a sign-and-trade with the Celtics this past summer.