It may have been an unthinkable scenario at this time a year ago but there’s no doubting that a segment of the New York Knicks fandom has turned on Julius Randle. And the feeling is mutual if Randle’s January thumbs-down moment is any indication.
Simultaneously, the 2021 All-Star’s backup, Obi Toppin, has ascended to cult-hero status. It has progressed to the point that “O-bi” chants are now part of the MSG ambiance.
So, when the former No. 8 overall pick exploded a for a career-high 35 points against the Wizards on Friday while filling in for an injured Randle, people had some feelings about the effort. Twitter was inundated with fans calling for a big change in New York’s frontcourt. Others, however, remained on the side of the wily vet.
For their part, though, Toppin and Randle remain focused on what they can accomplish together.
Toppin Says They’re Ready to Pair Up
In the wake of his career-best outing, Toppin revealed that he and Randle see major potential in their on-court pairing.
“For sure, me and Jules actually talked about it,” Toppin revealed, via the New York Daily News. “We definitely feel in today’s game that’s a big thing, just because a lot of teams are playing small, a lot of teams want to play fast, shoot 3s, run the floor and just get out in transition.
“I feel like when me and Jules are on the court, we’re definitely playing a lot faster. Either me or Jules can be in the paint or we can screen and roll.”
With Mitchell Robinson manning the pivot and anchoring the team’s defense, the Randle-Toppin minutes have been limited this season. That said, the Knicks outscored opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions when they did utilize the combination, and that number was 8.1 points/100 poss. last season.
There’s hope, too, that Toppin would bring more to the table — both individually and in his pairing with Randle — given more minutes and a greater role.
“There are so many different things we can do when we’re both on the court. But we’ve definitely talked about it and hopefully we’re both back here next year and we can see that,” Toppin added. “I feel like we can definitely do some damage in the league if we’re on the court together.”
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Thibodeau Sweats the D
Elsewhere, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was significantly less enthused about a Randle-Toppin frontcourt. Although he could get with the idea of going smaller/faster, he clearly believes there would be problems defensively.
“I like having a component of being able to downsize,” Thibodeau said. “But the thing is, we lose our defense, and so it’s gonna be hard because once you do that, you’re basically committing to outscoring somebody.”
Curiously, though, the numbers didn’t bear that out with Randle and Toppin during either of the last two seasons.
In their 101 shared minutes in ’21-22, the Knicks posted a defensive rating of 104.1. For the record, that’s 2.1 points/100 poss. better than the number put up by the Celtics’ league-leading front this season. In a smaller sample size in ’20-21, the duo’s D-rating checked in at 101.1.