The Knicks played the third of their four preseason games last night (Wednesday) facing the Indiana Pacers on the road. They were 2-0 going in, having defeated the Detroit Pistons 117-96 on Oct. 4 and the Pacers 131-114 last Friday, both at Madison Square Garden. Their final preseason game will be tomorrow at the Garden hosting the Washington Wizards before the regular season opener on the road versus the Memphis Grizzlies next Wednesday.
The Knicks will be at MSG for their next three games, playing the Pistons next Friday, the Orlando Magic on Oct. 24 and the Charlotte Hornets on Oct. 26. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is shaping what will be his early season rotation that includes starters Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, RJ Barrett, Evan Fournier and Jalen Brunson.
For the Knicks to improve on their 11th seed in the Eastern Conference standings from last season and be in the mix for a playoff spot, the growth and production of forward Obi Toppin must change from a variable to a positive constant. The 24-year-old Brooklyn native was named the 2020 national college player of the year at Dayton a few months before being selected by the Knicks with the No. 8 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
His first two years with the team have been uneven, as he has shown flashes of being an impact offensive player and simultaneously displaying frequent defensive lapses. As last season progressed Toppin made strides on both ends of the floor and may be primed for a breakout 2022-23 campaign. Against the Pacers last Friday, he led the Knicks with 24 points in 20 minutes on 10-14 shooting going 4-7 on three-point attempts.
Playing behind Julius Randle at the power forward position has also been a factor in Toppin averaging just 14.3 minutes—17.1 last season—per game early in career. Randle has led the Knicks in points, rebounds and assists the past two seasons. During the first week of training camp, Thibodeau said he doesn’t foresee Randle and Toppin being on the floor together for extended time this season. A season ago they shared the court for just 101 minutes.
“It’s based on performance, who fits best together,” Thibodeau said. “It’s not fantasy basketball, it’s what makes the group work best.”