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Knicks face former 1st round pick Obi Toppin in 2nd round vs. Pacers: ‘We always felt he was a good player’



Obi Toppin, we meet again.

The Knicks drafted Toppin with the No. 8 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, only to trade him to the Indiana Pacers for a pair of second-round picks last summer.

And with the Knicks advancing to the second round of the playoffs after powering through the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1, they will now see their former high-flying forward logging minutes for a Pacers team that defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the first round.

“We always felt he was a good player,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after practice at the Tarrytown training facility on Saturday. “I don’t think anything has changed.”

Toppin shot 40.6% from three during the regular season in his first year with the Pacers, six percent better than his best season with the Knicks (34.4%) and eight percent better than his average over the three years he spent in New York (32.5 %).

His averages of 10.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 0.6 steals per game are all career-highs, and he appeared in all 82 games for the Pacers this season, starting 28 of them.

“He’s very athletic, runs the floor great, shoots the ball, can score the ball, has always been a gifted scorer,” Thibodeau said. “And like I said, we loved having him.”

Toppin couldn’t secure a larger role in New York because All-Star forward Julius Randle played the lion’s share of the minutes at the four.

“He was in a situation here where he was playing behind Julius,” Thibodeau said. “That was the story behind that.”

The spry former Knick now comes off the bench in Indiana, where the Pacers traded for perennial All-Star forward Pascal Siakam.

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Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Haliburton were teammates on Team USA’s 2024 FIBA World Cup team. Brunson said he has tons of respect for Haliburton after Thursday’s practice in Tarrytown.

“Great player. Didn’t really know him until — I knew of him, we met a couple times, but we didn’t become friends until last summer,” he said. “Great guy, great family. He became one of my friends through the experience last summer. I have all the respect in the world for him and the way he plays the game. He just goes out there, plays the right way and does what he has to do.”

Haliburton earned a spot on Team USA’s 2024 Paris Olympic roster. Brunson was named one of 28 finalists but was left off the roster.

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Asked if he would consider expanding the Knicks’ rotation to combat the Pacers’ pace of play, Thibodeau said, with a smile: “We could.”

The Knicks were already short Randle (dislocated shoulder) entering the first round against the 76ers. They then lost Bojan Bogdanovic for the rest of the season due to a foot injury

Mitchell Robinson is also playing with an ankle injury. Precious Achiuwa has already been in the rotation, but Alec Burks, who has not played any playoff minutes, could be in play with Bogdanovic out.

“Well you’ve gotta look at who they’re playing as well,” Thibodeau said. “So they’ve cut back [on their rotation], so it’s all about matchups.”

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