New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin believes in his defense

In the run-up to this year's NBA draft, one of the biggest questions about Obi Toppin was how his defense would hold up at the NBA level.

There is one person, however, who isn't worried about those concerns: Toppin himself.

"I feel really good going into any game with my offensive skills, and I also do with my defensive skills," the New York Knicks rookie said on a conference call Thursday afternoon. "A lot of people say I don't play good defense, but I feel like I push myself every single day to get better at what I need to do to be great, and I have great people around me who are helping me with that.

"Coach [Tom Thibodeau] is a great defensive coach, and when we get on the court together, it's going to change me a lot. Everybody else, [assistant coach] Kenny Payne, everybody that's in the office is pushing us to be great offensively and defensively, and when the time comes for us to step on that court, we're going to be ready."

What Toppin proved last year at Dayton, however, is that he can be an explosive offensive player, one capable of throwing down massive dunks that helped him become arguably the most exciting player in college basketball -- in addition to possibly being its best.

When Thibodeau was asked about Toppin earlier this week, he heaped praise on his offensive abilities after Toppin averaged 20 points per game and shot 63.3% from the field and 39% from 3-point range as a redshirt sophomore at Dayton, saying of Toppin's offensive game that "he's about as ready as a young guy can be coming into the league."

Thibodeau immediately followed that up, however, by saying, "Defensively, he's got to learn, he's got to grow, as most young guys do."

Still, Toppin has impressed his teammates in workouts thus far, with RJ Barrett and Austin Rivers separately marveling at Toppin's athletic gifts. And, when asked Thursday why he thought his defense was underrated, he pointed to that athleticism as untapped potential that he can dig into at the other end of the court -- especially as he begins to work with NBA coaching, and with Thibodeau in particular.

"Coach Thibs, he's known for his defense, like I said before, and I feel like with my athletic ability, my speed, the way I move my body, I understand my body and I understand the things I need to do to get better and to take my game to another level," Toppin said. "So I'm locked in. I'm at another level. I'm not in college anymore, and I'm locked into what I have to do to be great.

"With the coaching staff and players we have, they're going to push me as well as I'm going to push them to do everything we can to be successful."