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There is a case for the Cavs to take Obi Toppin

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It’s all about who he’s supposed to be like.

NCAA Basketball: Saint Louis at Dayton Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

So let’s say the Cavs pick Obi Toppin next week with their first-round pick. It’s certainly an option, one that has a clear downside.

But it’d be unfair to open to say there are no positives to adding Toppin. He’s athletic, runs the floor well, and should, at the very least, be a productive offensive player. The Cavs need those.

Player comps are flawed, but the two that stick out among current players are Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (made by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor) and Hawks (made by ESPN’s Mike Schmitz).

To start with Kuzma, this would imply that Toppin evolves into a more perimeter-oriented player than he was at Dayton, where he played more five than wing minutes. Toppin can put the ball on the floor a little bit, but it’s not a major part of the game. It’s not for Kuzma either; 19.8% of his shot attempts come in transition and 28% as a spot-up shooter vs. a mere 9.6% in isolation, per nba.com/stats.

It would also mean Toppin can defend on the perimeter more than expected, or that he’d be playing with personnel that allows him to play outside offensively and more inside defensively. Kuzma, to his credit, battles on that end even if he’s not a lockdown defender.

Where the comparison falls apart, though, is thinking about Toppin as a lob threat and pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop tool. Kuzma, per nba.com/stats, only had 3.3% of his possessions as a roll man. And per Cleaning The Glass, he took 28% of shots at the rim — putting him in the 22nd percentile for his position. The best version of Toppin is going to eat more at the rim. Maybe that makes Collins the more apt comparison.

Collins has a more similar frame to Toppin — both are 6’9” with Collins weighing in at 235 pounds and Toppin as 220. Collins takes 58% of his shots at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass. Per nba.com/stats, 28% of his shots came as a roll man. His 5.1 possessions as a roll man also ranked third in the league last season, with only Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Jokic. (That does figure to change this year, though, due to Clint Capela’s arrival.) He’s also really good in transition, racking up 1.44 points per possession. His three-point shooting also was encouraging last year.

Defensively, Collins took a big leap, going from a clear negative to something close to neutral. If the Cavs were to take Toppin, the hope would be he would follow the same trajectory: provide an immediate impact on offense and improve on defense over time. The difference is that Toppin is 22 now and Collins is 23 heading into his fourth season. Collins, at least based on the way that we know now, is a better lateral athlete than Toppin.

So let’s say Toppin comes in and is some mix of these two players, meaning he would shoot threes, offer a lob threat and run the floor as a massive target for Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. In a vacuum, that’s absolutely something Cleveland could use. The roster doesn’t have that ultra-athletic threat — Larry Nance Jr. is the closest thing to it probably — and it’ll be a need long-term.

Now, the fit isn’t as clean as an Isaac Okoro or Onyeka Okongwu or even a Patrick Williams might be. Toppin’s too small right now to bang with fives and he’s going to have a learning curve defending fours. It’ll require some lineup creativity (and probably trial and error) for J.B. Bickerstaff to utilize Toppin as cleanly as possible.

But even if the Cavs want to improve right now, the franchise should still be looking a few years out. If Toppin is the guy they think is the best fit now and later, then take him. Right now, it’s still really about building a foundation vs. building on top of an existing one. There’s an argument for viewing Toppin in that light if he’s something like who he’s expected to be and his offense is as good as advertised.