During last preseason, Pistons coach Dwane Casey compared Obi Toppin to former Kentucky star Kenny “Sky’’ Walker, a Knicks 1980’s lottery pick who didn’t pan out.
Last November, the Knicks had picked the Dayton dunker at No. 8, one slot after the Pistons passed on Toppin for Killian Hayes. It’s still unclear what Casey was implying about the 2020 college basketball Player of The Year who experienced a modest rookie season.
Walker, meanwhile, still lives in Lexington, Kentucky and hosts a postgame show following Wildcats basketball/football contests. Even before Casey made his comparison, Walker had heard similar things.
“With his jumping ability, I’ve had three, four scouts I talked to at Kentucky games, they were like, ‘Man, this Obi Toppin guy reminds me a lot of you, the way he can jump and his athletic ability,’” Walker told The Post.
“Getting drafted by New York made those comparisons even more. I certainly respect his athletic ability. My advice to him is continue to work on your game. A mid-major, it takes a couple of years to kick in and show what he could do. He needs to be on the court more.’’
After making the playoffs, the Knicks will sit out Tuesday’s lottery drawing for the first time since 2015. Hence, the focus will be on Toppin’s development even more next season.
In his rookie campaign, Toppin showed flashes but was beset by playing the wrong position – power forward — amidst a season in which Julius Randle exploded. Toppin, 23, averaged 11 minutes per game.
“It’s going to take some time,’’ Walker said. “Julius having the year he had took some minutes away from Obi. I think Tom Thibodeau being the veteran coach, defensive-minded, he wanted to build a culture off winning. He decided to go with the veterans like (Nerlens) Noel, Taj (Gibson). It cuts into his playing time. My advice to him would be don’t get discouraged. This is the NBA. You got to prove yourself in this league. Nobody cares about what you did in college, even though he was Player of the Year. This is no time to hang your head.’’
Toppin showed no intimidation during the first-round playoff series vs. Atlanta and two of his energetic dunks drew loud “O-bi” chants. Walker wants Toppin to work on his “ballhandling and outside shooting” and to reverse a trend he noticed.
“There were some games he got in and got the crowd going by getting a dunk early,’’ Walker said. “Whenever he got the ball early, he’s excited and ready to go. If he doesn’t get in the action early, it seems he gets a little frustrated and because he’s going against bigger, stronger guys. He’s getting pushed around, especially in the paint.
“What that tells me he needs to spend more time in the gym and get stronger. When he’s able to hold his own in the paint and increase his outside shooting to 3-point range you’ll see his game take off a bit. He’s a good mid-range shooter.’’
At worst, Walker feels Toppin can become a player along the lines of Larry Nance Jr., the active power forward formerly of the Lakers, now with the Cavaliers. In six seasons as a role player, Nance Jr. has career averages of 8.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
“(Obi) has the reputation of a guy who can run, jump — that’s what makes him who he is and that’s who I was in college,’’ Walker said. “It made me an All-American and a great player in college. One thing in the NBA, if Obi hasn’t realized this already, you go from playing against boys to grown men in the NBA. Just because you’re the best guy in college basketball, there’s a bunch of guys in the NBA that can run fast and jump real high. That’s why this summer he’s got to develop other parts of his game.’’
The 6-foot-8 Walker, who played five seasons for the Knicks averaging 7.7 points, was beset by back injuries and massive expectations as a fifth-overall pick drafted to fill Bernard King’s shoes. His Knicks highlight was winning The 1989 Slam-Dunk title. Walker only took 31 3-point shots in five seasons and wishes he would have worked on that part of his game.
“The big problem for me, I was supposed to be the guy to replace Bernard King who was a legend,’’ Walker said. “Everyone’s looking for me to be the next Bernard King. It puts a lot of pressure on me to be that type of player. We had similarities but were two totally different kinds of players. I’m not going to lie to you. The first two years in New York was very rough, a struggle, living up to those expectations.’’
Toppin still has time. Former Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley, Knicks’ No. 25-overall pick who was named Second Team All-Rookie, made a much larger impact. Walker saw a lot of Quickley at Rupp Arena.
“Was a big surprise,’’ Walker said. “He had an OK freshman year, a few good games. It was totally surprising he was SEC Player of the Year his second year, probably improved from freshman to sophomore more than any player (John) Calipari has coached since he’s been at Kentucky. But I still didn’t see his rookie year coming. He might look frail but he’s tough as nails.’’