Toppin, Avdija, Williams top NBA draft forwards list

AP – Obi Toppin needed one season to go from developmental project to potential NBA lottery pick.

He blossomed last year for Dayton to turn the Flyers into a Final Four contender while becoming a sought-after pro prospect ahead of next Wednesday’s draft. He’s among the headliners of this year forwards, players offering enough size or length to tussle inside or contribute on the perimeter.

The list includes international prospect Deni Avdija and Florida State’s Patrick Williams as other potential lottery picks.

Here’s a look at some of the top prospects:

OBI TOPPIN

Toppin was once a six-foot-two high school junior who had never dunked in a game and then a senior lacking Division I offers. Now he’s a high lottery prospect as a rangy power forward.

The six-foot-nine, 220-pound Toppin’s development, which included a stop in prep school and a redshirt season, turned him into an efficient scorer and high-flying dunker. He averaged 20 points despite taking 20 shots in a game only once all year. He shot 64.7 per cent from the floor over two seasons and became a more frequent three-point shooting threat last year (39 per cent).

Dayton’s Obi Toppin dunks during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Duquesne in Dayton, Ohio. PHOTO: AP

Although, it’s unclear how good of a rebounder he will be; he averaged 7.5 rebounds but hit double figures only eight times in 31 games last year despite his explosiveness. It’s also unclear how well he’d handle quicker opponents when roving or switching along the perimeter, though Toppin said workouts with other NBA players and draft prospects would helped prepare him for that.

“Playing against those guys has been helping me a lot, especially for defence — having to play some bigs, having to play some guards,” Toppin said in a virtual news conference, adding he’s working to “prove a lot of people wrong” on defence.

DENI AVDIJA

The 19-year-old from Israel is a versatile playmaker with size and a still-developing game.

Avdija helped Israel win the FIBA U-20 European Championships in 2018 and 2019. And despite playing opponents older in that second title run, Avdija was most valuable player by averaging 18.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 steals. He’s a good ball-handler with the versatility to lead the break, run the offence in half court or play from the post. He also became the youngest player ever to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv to start his professional career in 2017.

However, Avdija’s shooting touch just hasn’t been there. Last year, he made just 33 per cent of three-pointers and 59 per cent of free throws in 59 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israeli and Euroleague play. During a pre-draft virtual news conference, Avdija said he’s been working to make his stroke more efficient as he gets stronger, adding: “I’m a guy who likes to improve, who’s looking forward to improve.”

PATRICK WILLIAMS

The 19-year-old freshman offers positional versatility after playing in solely as a Seminoles reserve.

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s sixth man of the year helped the Seminoles win their first league regular-season crown. He brought athleticism and strength in a six-foot-eight, 225-pound frame with a nearly seven-foot wingspan, giving him the ability to defend multiple positions. He averaged 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in just 22.6 minutes per game – he played 30-plus minutes only twice – yet had a team-high 30 blocks. He also shot 83.8 per cent from the foul line.

Williams was a perfect fit as a complementary piece for FSU, but teams will have a limited body of work to evaluate while projecting him for a more extensive role. Williams must continue developing his outside shot after shooting 32 per cent from three-point range and making just 16 in 29 games.