Cavs draft: Obi Toppin becoming viable rim protector would be key

Obi Toppin could end up being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Though I’m personally very skeptical of it, it’s reasonable to say that Obi Toppin could end up being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Wings such as Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija would seem to be really in-play for Cleveland at #5, and fellow big Onyeka Okongwu would appear to be as well, but most recent mocks have Cleveland going with Toppin at their selection, for what it’s worth. That includes Matt Babcock of Basketballnews.com and Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports also had the same in his latest.

Granted, Babcock had Okongwu off the board at #3 to the Charlotte Hornets in his, and The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor had Okongwu there, too, Avdija to the Chicago Bulls at #4 and Cleveland going with Okoro. O’Connor had the Washington Wizards trade up to the Atlanta Hawks’ pick at #6 for LaMelo Ball in his, and even had Toppin slide to the San Antonio Spurs at #11.

But either way, it still seems that Toppin is definitely very in-play for the Cavaliers at #5, if he’s on the board, whether or not Okongwu is available. Toppin was reportedly set to work out for Cleveland last week, too, which played further into that narrative.

The argument for Cleveland for Toppin is well-versed at this point, as he’s a prospect that’s really polished offensively, was the Naismith Men’s Player of the Year in college basketball in 2019-20 at Dayton, and had 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

He hit 63.3 percent of his shots and knocked in 39.0 percent of his 2.6 three-point attempts per outing, too, which seemingly leads plenty to believe he could provide a stretch big element even early on. That could be to go with his explosive athleticism vertically as a lob threat and having post polish.

But the major defensive question marks regarding Toppin concern me, as the Cavs have struggled mightily on that end of the floor for several seasons, and for the second year in a row, had the NBA’s worst defensive rating in 2019-20.

Now, I’m not dismissing Toppin’s offensive game, and the Cavs, reportedly per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, could view Toppin as a potential long-term replacement for Kevin Love. That’s in relation to them maybe looking to move Love, whose continuously a subject in trade rumors, down the road, for further context.

And Cleveland might not have the to-be unrestricted Tristan Thompson back, and seemingly likely wouldn’t if they drafted Toppin. In any case, from my perspective, if Cleveland were to draft Toppin, one thing is very apparent for coming years.

Toppin becoming a viable rim protector would be key for the Cavs.

It’s tough to foresee Toppin, due to lack of lateral quickness, be at all switchable if needed. Against 4’s that can realistically put the ball on the deck and/or space the floor, Toppin would seem to likely have his share of problems on-ball as well.

It wouldn’t aid Toppin to be on a squad that’s so limited when it comes to perimeter defenders around him, either.

But Toppin could maybe impact winning, which could come by Cleveland perhaps adding a highly capable wing defensive wing in free agency, and further progression of Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr., and with him becoming a viable rim protector.

Again, Toppin being a polished scorer is not something I’m at all discounting, and he could provide energy in a bench role from that.

Albeit for a prospect that’s already 22 years old, him lacking when it comes to defensive IQ/feel is very concerning. That’s even more so when you’re discussing him maybe going to a Cavs team that has such a long way to go around him on that end.

Nonetheless, while I don’t really buy his 1.2 blocks per outing in 2019-20 as being indicative of him eventually being a legitimate shot blocking presence at the NBA level due to IQ concerns, perhaps he could develop into a viable rim protector in the near future?

Frankly, I question the likelihood of that, but it seems more reasonable that Toppin improving in other ways defensively, and could make him more well-rounded at the 4/5 for long stretches to help Cleveland’s young perimeter players.

And even with Andre Drummond, though he’s reportedly undecided about it, seeming to have a high possibility of eventually picking up his $28.7 million player option, but appearing to have a real chance of being an expiring trade deadline piece, Toppin could maybe be a long-term 5 option.

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I agree with Fedor in that sense, especially as Toppin could be more of a force in that spot at the other end, I personally believe. Perhaps he and Larry Nance Jr. could be a formidable duo if Toppin can eventually be a legitimate rim protector, too.

In any case, looking onward, if Toppin were to improve his defensive feel/IQ and at least be a competent rotator on the interior, and learn to play with more verticality consistently, as Okongwu does so well, that would go a long way for him and the Cavs.

To reiterate, I still have my doubts about Toppin’s long-term outlook with the Cavaliers, who desperately need to steadily add quality on-ball defenders in coming years. And I’d rather Cleveland go a different route than Toppin in the 2020 NBA Draft.

But if they did select him, defensively and for him to impact winning down the road, given the Cavs’ perimeter deficiencies and Toppin’s himself, him becoming a viable rim protector would make his value on the floor for long stretches considerably increase.

Again, though, at the NBA level, that’s a huge question mark involving that aspect with Toppin.