Going into the 2019-20 NCAA basketball season, some NBA scouts were keeping their eye on the University of Dayton’s Obi Toppin, who was going into his sophomore season. After putting up 14.4 points and 5.6 rebounds as a redshirt freshman, Toppin put in the work over the summer to become a bonafide first-round talent.
He didn’t disappoint during his second year with the program. Toppin averaged 20.0 points and 7.5 boards over 31 games with the Flyers. He ranked 20th in the nation in scoring and quickly introduced himself to the NBA world with highlight-reel dunks. The 6’9 forward’s athleticism is second-to-none. He’s quick and explosive out of the pick-and-roll, plus his leaping ability allows him to play above the rim.
The one aspect Toppin needs to improve is his defense. His positioning and overall effort level need to be better if he wants to become an All-Star at the pro level. Dayton head coach Anthony Grant is familiar with the NBA game, after spending two seasons as an assistant coach under Billy Donovan with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Grant took over the Flyers’ head coaching job in 2017 and was named the Sporting News National Coach of the Year this past season. I caught up with Grant to get an inside look at Toppin and how he would fit with the Golden State Warriors.
Q: Where did Obi’s game grow the most between his freshman and sophomore seasons?
Grant: I would say just from a mental standpoint of the experience he got, you know, he was a redshirt freshman in 2018-19, and so that game experience. I felt like he got better with every game. I think as that season went on, he was able to do more. I think his teammates began to understand how to play with him. He understood how to play with them, and how to help each one, how to help each other play to their strengths. And then I thought, going into last season with him, you know, being Freshman of the Year in our league and first-team All-League, there was a confidence to go along with that experience. He tested the (NBA) waters after his freshman year and had a chance to go and work out for several NBA teams. And the feedback that he got was that he could be a guy that could be a potential first-round pick. I think the ideal for him was to use that feedback and experience that he got to go into his sophomore year, and he put a lot of work in. So, I think the biggest thing I would say is the experience and going through it. That’s what I saw with a guy that just continued to get better over the course of those two years.
Q: One big knock on Obi is his defense. Which aspect of that part of his game does he need to improve most if he wants to play big minutes at the NBA level?
Grant: Well, that’s a big jump going from college to the NBA. I think every player that goes into the league experiences that, you know, having coached in the league for two years, I think I have a pretty healthy respect for the athleticism, the talent, the skill of guys at that level. So, I think like any other guy, he’s going to have to make those adjustments physically and mentally playing against the best players in the world. And I think his background in terms of the way he’s come up through the game, I believe that he’s more than capable of making that adjustment, but certainly there’ll be some growing pains. I think he needs to work on everything because I do have a healthy respect for how good the players and the coaches are at that level. But I also believe that he’s more than capable of making that jump.
Q: The Warriors have the second pick at the 2020 NBA Draft. How do you think Obi’s game fits with the Dubs?
Grant: I think he could fit really well in that system. Just the spacing, the skill of the players on the floor, just having some familiarity with the way that they play. I think Obi’s skill set being a versatile big; I think he could play with a lot of different combinations on the floor with those guys. So yeah, I think his skill set, his talent will certainly fit well. He’s a very versatile guy with his size, speed, skill. He’s got great hands. I think he could fit in a lot of different systems, but I think Golden State is the perfect landing spot for him.
Q: What made Obi such a dominant offensive player this past season?
Grant: I think he’s really, really gifted athletically. He’s got great speed, he’s got great hands, he’s got great athleticism. You know, the way we played in pick-and-roll, I think will help. I think it’s in terms of being prepared and understanding the different options in terms of playing the pick-and-roll, getting to the rim. He’s a weapon when popping in the pick-and-roll. Those type of things that you see in the NBA and specifically with the team in Golden State, I think he’ll have an understanding of how to play with them, what they do at that level, and specifically what his strengrhs are. I think his IQ of the game combined with all those other gifts that he brings to the table are what make him a special talent. I truly believe he will be an All-Star at the NBA level.
How do you think think Toppin’s game would fit with the Warriors?