Knicks' Obi Toppin talks Rookie of the Year aspirations, but is thinking team first

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Obi Toppin during Zoom conference call
Obi Toppin during Zoom conference call

To many, Obi Toppin was one of the most NBA-ready prospects entering this year's Draft. And many also believe the Knicks got a steal with him falling to No. 8. 

Toppin has already been named in the running for Rookie of the Year this upcoming season because of his scoring prowess and ability to impact the Knicks right off the bat. Speaking with reporters for the first time wearing his new team's gear while at training camp, Toppin was humbled by the conversations surrounding him. 

But he knows there's a lot of work to be done before any sort of personal rookie accolades can be discussed. 

“It’s definitely a blessing that people are saying that, but at the end of the day, I take it day by day," he said. "I got to get better every single day as well as our team [needs to] get better every single day. We’re pushing each other to do great every single day."

Toppin hasn't even been at training camp for a week, and he's already making his presence known among his teammates. He just set the highest score for the team's conditioning test, to which he thanks new assistant Kenny Payne for helping him get ready for it. 

But there are also improvements on Toppin's game that he's thinking about -- not getting an award. Defense is the highest priority and he knows head coach Tom Thibodeau will be pushing him to improve there. 

“He’s known for being a defensive coach and I feel like with what everyone’s saying I have to work on defense," Toppin said. "He’s going to make sure I’m good at defense. He’s going to make sure I’m doing what I have to do to help the team win, and if that’s me being better at defense, he’s going to make sure I do that.”

Toppin mentions the team a lot and that's what organizations love to hear from rookies. At the moment, he's just trying to get acclimated with his new teammates, and they seem to like him thus far. Austin Rivers mentioned the conditioning test results during his interview on Wednesday, and RJ Barrett likes what he sees from Toppin during their workouts together as well. 

"For myself, I’m a big team guy so I’m never going to say my expectations are for myself. Me coming into a new brotherhood, a new family I feel like I want to bring everybody together. I want to change the culture. I want to win a lot of games and want to get to the playoffs. I feel like the group of guys we have now, the coaching staff we have now, everybody’s going to push each other every single day to be great and to win a lot of games. We want to make these fans happy and put a show on for them.”

The team-first mentality will go a long way for Toppin, and at the end of the day maybe that coveted honor of Rookie of the Year will come his way. 

If he does, he already knows who to thank. 

“Hopefully at the end of the day, I achieve those goals. But I’m not going to be able to do it without those guys around me," he said.