Knicks castaway Obi Toppin lauded as ideal for ‘fast team’ Pacers

16 July 2023

The run-and-gun Pacers see a perfect fit for two players who got away from the Knicks.

A day before Friday’s Obi Toppin trade became official, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle alluded to the acquisition as a boost to his team’s preferred rapid pace.

“One of the statistics we happened upon — we have another deal that’s in the works that we can’t really talk about — but the rumored player in that deal [Toppin] is the No. 1 player in effective field-goal percentage in transition,” said Carlisle, who was referencing the combined percentages of the last two seasons. “And No. 2 is Tyrese [Haliburton]. And No. 3 is Bruce Brown. So our management team has done a great job of adding a couple of great pieces to what our identity is — a fast team.”

Carlisle was speaking at the introductory press conference of Brown, who revealed Thursday that he took free agency meetings with only the Knicks and Pacers.

The Knicks, restrained by their salary cap situation, were outbid by the Pacers’ 2-year, $45 million winning offer. Brown, 26, fresh off a championship run with the Nuggets, cashed in with a 400% raise from last season. Team president Leon Rose instead signed guard Donte DiVincenzo to a 4 year, $50 million contract.

“The Knicks were the first [meeting]. I think we had others lined up, but we didn’t make it there,” said Brown, who added that a recruiting pitch from Haliburton — the Pacers’ All-Star point guard — played a role in choosing Indy.

With Toppin, the Knicks essentially acknowledged failure by trading the former eighth overall pick for a pair of future second rounders. Toppin’s athleticism and speed often ignited scoring spurts while exciting the Madison Square Garden crowd, but his playing time was limited as Julius Randle’s backup.

Defensively, the power forward’s struggles shortened the leash held by Tom Thibodeau. Toppin averaged just 14.7 minutes in his three Knicks seasons. In the half-court offense, he became a spot-up 3-point shooter parked in a corner.

But with the Pacers — who ranked first in the NBA last season in transition points (the Knicks were 15th) — the system is built around Toppin’s strengths in the open court.

It’s a tantalizing alley-pop combination with Haliburton, who ranked second in the NBA in assists last season as the rebuilding Pacers (35-47) exceeded low expectations. Ironically, the Knicks passed on Haliburton in 2020 to draft Toppin.

Both players are repped by CAA, the agency with close ties to Rose.

“I think when you’re building a team, you look at your best player, or your best players, and here’s their strengths. So you build things around that,” Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said. “[Haliburton] is going to make us play fast. We’re going to play fast, there’s no doubt about that.

“It’s a lot of fun, first of all. And it makes it exciting for our fans. … I believe anybody who comes in here is going to be a better offensive player. With coach Carlisle’s system, with the way we run, with the way our coaching staff gets the best out of those things.”

The trade provides Toppin with an opportunity to boost his value heading into 2024 free agency. On paper, it’s a great deal for the 25-year-old and his agent.

For the Knicks? Barring another move, they don’t have an obvious candidate to fill Toppin’s minutes as the backup power forward. The options are either too small (Josh Hart, RJ Barrett) or very limited (Isaiah Roby, Jericho Sims).

The roster features a surplus of guards, especially after DiVincenzo’s arrival. The unbalanced construction boosts speculation that Rose will make another move before the season, with Raptors forward OG Anunoby as a reported target.

Evan Fournier’s expiring contract is at the top of the list of assets the Knicks are attempting to trade.

The Pacers, meanwhile, seen set on their roster and identity.

“I like watching up and down,” Pritchard said. “I don’t know if we’re Showtime. I’m not ready to anoint that. But we were first in fastbreak points. And if you continue to do that — continue to build that fast-paced team and become a better defensive team, hold each other a little bit more accountable on that side, then we can make big jumps potentially. And that’s a lot of fun.”


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