For one of the few nights this season, Obi Toppin looked like the Knicks rookie with better prospects Tuesday vs. the Warriors before a Garden crowd of 2,000.
Was it any coincidence that it came on the first night the Garden allowed fans, including Roni and Obidiah Toppin, his parents from Brooklyn?
“She had an amazing time,” Toppin said after Thursday’s shootaround before the Knicks hosted Sacramento. “She said she had tears in her eyes when she seen me step on the court. That’s just the way my mom is – she’s very emotional. But my mom, my dad, my girlfriend – all of them being in the Garden to watch me play the other day was amazing. They enjoyed it a lot.”
There was a lot to enjoy. In most games this season, the Knicks’ other rookie, Immanuel Quickley, has stolen the spotlight and received more minutes, though drafted 17 spots later.
Toppin, the Knicks’ lottery pick at No. 8, may now be slowly emerging as the athletic power forward from Dayton who can score in different ways.
“I feel like now I’m not fully 100 percent better than what I was before, but I feel like I’m getting better,” said Toppin, who is averaging just 11.9 minutes. “I feel like the game is starting to slow down a little more for me. I’m starting to know my role. When I get in, I know what I have to do to help the team win. It’s my first year in the league. As every game comes forward I got to learn from every mistake and get better.”
Against Golden State, the Dayton dunk machine was 3-for-3 in 13 minutes, showing diversity. He slammed down a beautiful alley-oop pass from Alec Burks that was thrown a little low. He muscled inside for a lefty hook shot. And he banged in a key 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.
He looked juiced and not lost as he has at some moments this season.
“I feel like with the fans back in the beginning there was a lot more energy,” Toppin said. “It definitely felt great having my parents and girlfriend watching me play at the Garden. We came to every game to watch the Knicks play (as a kid).”
Perhaps this is the moment – with starting center Mitchell Robinson still mending his broken hand – Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau will increase Toppin’s minutes and try out a Toppin-Julius Randle frontcourt.
Thibodeau has gone almost exclusively with a Nerlens Noel-Taj Gibson center tandem, but the Knicks need more scoring out of the center position. Noel is also nursing a sore ankle from all the minutes he’s logged since Robinson went down six games ago.
“Coach [Thibodeau] is a great coach,” Toppin said. “When the time comes to step on the court, especially with Jules, coach is never going to put us in a position to fail. If he throws us in the mix of me and Jules being in the frontcourt together, we’ll get the job done and do it well.”
Toppin was not asked about Kings rookie point guard Tyrese Haliburton, whom the Knicks passed on for Toppin and is weaving a solid season.
In January, Haliburton burned the Knicks in Sacramento with 16 points and four blocks in the Kings’ victory.
Afterward, Haliburton trolled the Knicks on social media with a Kermit The Frog meme with the cartoon character sipping tea. It’s known as a symbol for gloating over another party’s misfortune while staying above the fray.
The season is only 32 games old and there’s still a lot of tea left to be brewed.