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Mailbag: Is Obi Toppin’s athleticism enough to overlook his defensive issues?

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NCAA Basketball: Dayton at Duquesne Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Question, from Jay F: Don’t you think that drafting Obi would be worth it despite what we’ve seen on defense from him? We haven’t had that explosiveness in Cleveland since *cough *cough (LeBron).

No! Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

In all seriousness, the answer is no. Toppin’s athleticism is what makes him interesting, to be sure. If he’s going to work in the NBA, it’s going to be as a lob and open floor threat on a team that is probably pushing the pace. It’s something the Cavs do need.

But Toppin also isn’t the same type of athleticism as LeBron in any way. He can dunk and all, but LeBron was world’s more fluid as an athlete than Toppin is. He was (and still is) graceful and under control in a way Toppin isn’t and doesn’t project to be.

Where that also shows up most is on defense. Maybe Toppin is a late bloomer on defense in the way he’s a late bloomer as a prospect — his rise from unrecruited high school talent to lottery pick is rare and unpredictable. The tape just doesn’t suggest that that’ll happen, nor does the history of players like him. Twenty-two isn’t old, but massive changes in the DNA of the player are also kind of rare once you hit a certain point.

If the Cavs were differently built right now, I think you could talk yourself into Toppin for the reasons outlined in the question. Athleticism can be a real tool when unleashed properly and in the right context. The Cavs as they are built right now are not built to do that, though.

There are also products in this class who are also athletic, even if it’s not necessarily as SportsCenter Top-10 worthy like Toppin or James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards. Guys who the Cavs might take – Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija, namely — are competently athletic with more refined skillsets. Okoro, for instance, is really strong who knows how to use his tools correctly and could still pop a little more considering he’s 19. Avdija is also 19 and knows how to leverage the athleticism he has.

So, to sum it up: The appeal of Toppin, largely stemming from his ability to catch lobs and be dynamic, is real. It makes sense. It’s also not the kind of explosiveness that LeBron provided and is way more valuable.

Also: Collin Sexton is pretty damn explosive, even if he’s a guard and not a 6’9” marvel like is being referenced here.