New York Knicks rookie forward Obi Toppin has been the most popular pick by bettors to win 2020-21 Rookie of the Year.
According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post (via BetMGM), 23% of bets have been placed on the former Dayton Flyers star. Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball was the second-most popular choice (21%), followed by Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony (14%), Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton (9%), and Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija (7%).
As of Dec. 8, Ball (+400) was the favorite to win the award, just ahead of Toppin (+450) and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves (+450).
The faith in Toppin is likely based on his age and situation. At 22, the 6-foot-9 high-flyer was one of the oldest players in the draft, and his offensive game is as NBA-ready as anybody in his class. Toppin won multiple player of the year awards while averaging 20.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for Dayton in 2019-20.
Plus, his above-the-rim game coupled with the New York media coverage could amplify his rookie campaign.
The glaring issue with Toppin's game — causing him to drop to No. 8 draft — is his defense, but that can often be overlooked for scoring numbers in the Rookie of the Year race. The Knicks are projected to win 21.5 games, per PointsBet, though team success is often disregarded in Rookie of the Year voting.
Toppin looked great in the Knicks' first preseason game last Friday (11 points, 4-9 FG, seven rebounds), but struggled in the follow-up on Sunday (1-9 FG).
Notably, whether Toppin can win the award could very well hinge on, more than anything else, whether the Knicks trade incumbent starter Julius Randle. Neither Toppin nor Randle can adequately play the 3 or 5, and they are unplayable next to each other for defensive reasons. For now, the rookie will primarily by used as a second-unit spark plug, backing up Randle in the power forward spot.
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't have a track record of starting rookies, but he has sung Toppin's early praises and might not have a choice if Randle is dealt.