Obi Toppin didn’t expect coach Tom Thibodeau to be as excited as he was after the Knicks’ forward won Saturday’s All-Star Slam Dunk Contest when he arrived Wednesday at the team’s first practice after the break.
“Everybody congratulated me [at practice], said I had some pretty good dunks,’’ Toppin said. “[Thibodeau] definitely did. I was kind of surprised for a second. He was the first one I talked about it with. He was talking to me about the experience and if I got to talk to any of the guys. But that’s my guy. Coach is cool.’’
Thibodeau thought winning — even if it is circus dunks — can be a boost as the Knicks begin their post-All-Star break sprint Friday hosting Miami.
“I did [watch],’’ Thibodeau said. “I’m a Saturday night guy — the 3-point contest. I’m happy for Obi. It’s good for him and good for our organization.’’
But will it mean more playing time for Toppin, something that has become an obsession for Knicks fans on social media? Derrick Rose will be back either Friday or Sunday and he’s going to breathe life into Toppin’s game in the open court.
“It’s not necessarily what’s best for Obi,’’ Thibodeau said. “It’s what’s best for the team. I want him to continue to improve, continue to do what he’s doing well and build on that. When the bench goes in, it’s one of our strengths at times. And he’s a big part of that. His athleticism really stands out in that group [with Rose].’’
Toppin, who struggles with team defense and 3-point shooting, is averaging 15.1 minutes in his second season after being the No. 8 pick in the 2020 draft. He has never embraced the Obi Minutes Police’s manifesto.
“I trust Coach Thibs and the coaching staff, front office, so whatever decision they make with playing time, I’m cool with,’’ Toppin said. “I’m glad I’m here and have a lot of fun doing it. Whatever decision they make with playing time, I trust the decision.’’
With Rose on the verge of igniting the second unit, Toppin says the Knicks “can make a push.’’
“D-Rose is amazing, he talks a lot, he gets everyone energized,’’ Toppin said. “He makes sure everyone’s doing the right thing. He’s been gone for a minute. To have him back is amazing. When we play together he controls the game and finds the open man.’’
Toppin’s landslide victory Saturday over a frazzled field that included Cole Anthony, Jalen Green and Juan Toscano-Anderson could help his mojo — which has seemed low recently. In the four games leading into the break, he averaged 4.5 points in 9.5 minutes.
The Brooklyn native who turns 24 on March 4 still was flying high days later — touched by all the Dayton University fans who made the 2½-hour trek to Cleveland to root him on.
“It means a lot,’’ Toppin said. “A lot of legends have won it. For my name to be a part of it is a blessing.’’
His father, streetball legend Obadiah, who played in Europe, was in the Cleveland arena for the title. Toppin said his two favorite throwdowns were jumping over his friend Chuck while going behind the back and when he went between the legs, bouncing it off the backboard to slam it down.
“That’s a hard dunk I never seen anyone do,’’ Toppin said. “[My father] knew the dunks I was doing before. I had to get it approved. He’s a dunker. A dunker knows what a good one looks like.’’