Ineligible Man Downfield: What picking Obi Toppin would mean for the Cavs
Plus: Indians and Browns roster news.
If the Cavs take Obi Toppin, it’s time for a roster reset.
There are positives to Dayton’s Obi Toppin, the 22-year-old, 6’9’, 220-pound forward who the Cavs could take with their upcoming pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
For one, he’s a polished three-level scorer and someone who could be a really nice pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop partner with the Cavs’ young guards. It’d be fun to see Cleveland turn up the pace with him too in an effort to create easier offense. Toppin, without question, is probably the most ready-to-go prospect in the 2020 class.
However, his fit with the Cavs is a big question. Defensively, he’s a nightmare — Toppin has hips as wooden as a 19th-century warship — it’s going to take some serious time for him to improve on that end. It’s also entirely possible that he is never good on defense.
On the Cavs roster as is, utilizing him the way he’ll be best used is hard to see. He can’t play with Kevin Love, for one — they’d be killed by opposing frontcourts and Love openly has said he doesn’t want to play the five. Why would he do it to accommodate a rookie? Larry Nance Jr. doesn’t like playing the five, and it isn’t the best use of him. But he might have to in order to get Toppin minutes. The cleanest fit would be with Andre Drummond, but a) Drummond isn’t the level kind of defender who can cover for a bad defensive four like Toppin and b) might not be in Cleveland for long anyway.
Toppin’s strengths — all offense, no defense — also don’t mesh with what J.B. Bickerstaff and other coaches say they want the team to improve on. The goal, he said at the Cavs’ in-market workouts, was to take a step forward on defense and be a more competitive team. The former is essential for the latter to happen.
If not right away, taking Toppin probably means blowing up the Cavs’ roster as we currently understand it in the very near future. There is some validity to that idea, regardless of if Toppin is the pick or not. Cleveland is in a spot where it needs to think about two to three years from now, if not further out, vs. right now. Love and Drummond and maybe even Nance won’t be on the next Cavs team with real playoff hopes. If Koby Altman and the rest of the Cleveland brain trust believes Toppin is a guy that can feature on that next playoff team, then maybe you take him.
But thinking about the future also means figuring out how good the guys you have are right now. For Toppin, that means getting him on the floor at the four and as a small-ball five as much as possible while providing defensive support. For that to happen, that probably means doing a Love trade that is more of a salary dump. It also means finding a center that, at least as a one-year stopgap option, can play as a rim protector next to Toppin. Otherwise, you’re not really empowering Toppin the way he should be if you’re adding him to your young core.
Picking Toppin means picking a direction for the roster and changing course right now. Other prospects — namely Isaac Okoro or Deni Avdijaa or even Onyeka Okwongu — won’t require that. They also all are better fits for the modern NBA and the types of play that result in winning.
Is Toppin really worth all of that for a team still figuring out what it is? — Chris Manning
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Who we are
Chris Manning: Site Manager at Fear the Sword, co-host of the Locked on Cavs podcast, words at places like Cleveland Magazine and Forbes. On Twitter @cwmwrites
Jordan Zirm: Social editor at @TheCheckdown. Formerly of ESPN Cleveland. Words at B/R, SB Nation and UPROXX. Host of The Rebuild podcast. On Twitter @clevezirm
Photo: USA Today