Obi Toppin is finally going to have a chance to play major minutes for the Knicks.
The New York Knicks are putting Julius Randle on the shelf. Randle is one of the many Knicks to enter COVID health and safety protocols, but it might not be the worst timing for the struggling All-Star.
Randle’s effort level hasn’t been the same this year. It’s undeniable. It’s on defense, when he’s playing off the ball on offense, and even sometimes in his lackadaisical play with the ball in his hands. MSG analyst and former NBAer Wally Szczerbiak called out Randle’s screen setting after Tuesday’s win.
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“I don’t know what’s going on with Julius Randle,” Szczerbiak said. ” I mean maybe there’s something going on with his knee. He was rubbing it last night in the Minnesota game. He just does not — his body language is terrible.
“When he goes to set a screen, he just stands there. He doesn’t set a screen. Taj Gibson sets a screen to get Immanuel Quickley an open three, and he gets him a wide-open three. Julius Randle could do the same thing for any guard in that starting unit, but he doesn’t even look engaged when he goes to set a screen.”
Is Julius Randle Hurt?
We don’t really know. Randle is in health and safety protocols at the moment, but he didn’t look like he was at full strength in his recent games. As Szczerbiak mentions, he was rubbing his knee in Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Following Tuesday’s game, Tom Thibodeau told reporters that Randle was a bit “nicked up.” Here’s the full quote:
“He’s nicked up,” Thibodeau said. “He’s given us everything he has, and that’s what I love about him. He doesn’t make any excuses. He just goes out there and keeps going.”
This time off might give Randle the rest he needs. In the meantime, it’s Obi Toppin‘s chance to prove himself.
Obi Toppin Step Forward
This is the biggest opportunity of Obi Toppin’s NBA career. He’s been relegated to 10-15 minutes off the bench for the first two years of his career. Randle’s emergence last season and Thibodeau’s reliance on his All-Star made it tough for Toppin to crack the regular rotation.
Even though Randle is struggling this year and Toppin is flourishing, the second-year forward is still relegated to a smaller role off the bench. Even if he’s not starting, Toppin’s role is going to increase over the next week or two.
The energetic forward doesn’t need to try and fill Randle’s shoes. Instead, he should focus on bringing his unique game to the starting lineup. As long as he continues to run the floor, Kemba Walker and RJ Barrett will find him in transition.
Reduce Randle’s Minutes
To Thibs, playing Toppin or Randle at the five is like putting a square peg in a round hole. Friday will be Randle’s first missed game of the season and he’s playing 35+ minutes per game. That means Toppin is relegated to picking up the 13-15 minutes that Randle isn’t on the floor.
Even if Toppin lights it up over these next few games, Thibs is stubborn. Randle will be re-entering the starting lineup when he leaves health and safety protocols.
However, Thibs should be considering a shakeup of the power forward minutes. Dropping Randle’s minutes to somewhere between 28-30 per game. That would help keep the struggling All-Star fresh and give Toppin a larger role, which he deserves.
These next few games will see Toppin playing big minutes. That shouldn’t change when Randle returns.