Discover more from No Ceilings
Nikola Topic is rapidly becoming one of the most intriguing point guards in the 2024 NBA Draft through his unique on-ball creation.
The NBA season is so close, but until then, we’re going to stick exclusively with the NFL Pick’em over at Underdog. Our first selection is going to be capitalizing on Underdog’s 100k Sunday entry by taking Christian Watson higher than 50.5 total yards against a porous Denver defense. We’ll then go with Alex Anzalone higher than 4.5 solo tackles. Anzalone is averaging just over 5.1 solo tackles per game and should have plenty of opportunities against a run heavy Baltimore offense. Finally, we’re going with Gardner Minshew higher than 0.5 interceptions. Cleveland’s defense has been excellent this year and Minshew is prone to turnovers. Come join the fun using promo code NOCEILINGS or this link: https://play.underdogfantasy.com/p-no-ceilings to get a deposit match up to $100 dollars, take advantage of their scorcher Pick’em specials, and $100k Sundays Pick’em special giveaway.
Draft season has barely begun, and Nikola Topic has already emerged as one of the unexpected darlings of the 2024 NBA Draft community. This is the time of the year when overreactions run rampant, and for good reason. It’s important to get excited about a prospect first and then find the holes in their game. A lot of the time, this early season enthusiasm quickly fades as scouting reports improve and hot streaks cool off. It’s rare for the darlings of October to sustain that same momentum all the way to the draft in June. With Topic, though, something feels different. There are plenty of areas for improvement that we’ll dive into, but he has consistently dazzled and produced despite everything screaming that he should fail.
At 6’5”, the Serbian point guard is defying all expectations for KK Mega Basket. Topic isn’t an extraordinary athlete or lethal shooter, but he continues to put up 20-point games with ease. On top of that, Topic continuing to run one of the most effective pick-and-rolls in the world and dazzle with his playmaking is making it extremely difficult for me to harness my inner Regina George and plead with you to stop trying to make fetch happen. By the game, Topic continues to emerge as one of the best point guard prospects in the 2024 NBA Draft.
One of the first things that stands out with Topic is the ease with which he pressures the rim. Topic has a good first step, but it isn’t necessarily otherworldly. He also doesn’t sustain an elite top speed or explode at the rim. Over the six games he’s played this year and the 52 shots at the rim he’s taken, zero have been dunk attempts. Despite all of that, Topic is proving to be an elite at-rim scorer because he has an absurd understanding of angles.
One can only assume that Topic was a tremendous student in geography as his manipulation of angles is evident in every aspect of his offense. When he drives, he reinforces his quality first step with extremely precise driving angles. Instead of taking a more rounded path to the rim, which isn’t entirely uncommon with young players, Topic gets from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible. He is strong enough to absorb contact, composed enough to dribble through traffic, and aware enough to find the driving lanes no matter how small they may be. Even when his first attack gets cut off, Topic fluidly counters with a spin, crossover, or snake dribble. Once he gets to the rim, he has the craft and touch to finish with either hand and the strength to finish through contact. It isn’t a fluke that 59.8% of Topic’s shots are coming at the rim and that he’s scoring 1.38 PPS (80th percentile) while shooting 69.2%.
Topic is capable of creating his own shot out of isolation and has found a lot of success as he’s generated 1.286 points per possession (PPP) (91st percentile). However, his most common play type as a scorer is by far the pick-and-roll. Topic acts as the pick-and-roll ball-handler 43.2% of the time and is scoring 1.059 PPP (83rd percentile) on those plays. Topic has the first step where he can pressure the rim out of isolation, but when he’s given a screen and the defender is inconvenienced even slightly, Topic is nearly unstoppable. When he dribbles off the screen, which he does 82.4% of the time, Topic is scoring 1.119 PPP while shooting 62.1% with a true shooting percentage of 67.7%. Topic’s understanding of angles, pace manipulation, and defensive rotations makes him one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in this entire class.
Topic’s rim pressure and at-rim finishing truly are elite skills. However, the more he scales up in competition, the less impactful they’ll be if that’s all he offers. NBA defenders are too big and too athletic to be consistently exposed like this. Thankfully, Topic is also proving to be one of the most creative playmakers in this class. This skill is essential to Topic’s long-term impact because it creates those driving lanes that he is all too eager to exploit. If defenders collapse on him, Topic can generate assists in a myriad of ways. If defenders stay home, then Topic is more than happy to take the layup.
Over his six games, Topic is averaging 6.0 assists per game and 3.3 turnovers per game with a turnover rate of 16.9%. Topic has had some games where the turnovers have gotten out of control, and it is certainly something to keep an eye on, but it also isn’t as bad as it seems given how ball-dominant he’s been. When we look at how some previous prospects fared in this realm in their predraft season, his turnover numbers continue to not look as bad.
Austin Reaves as a senior: 17.7%
Josh Giddey: 22.6%
Tyrese Haliburton as a sophomore: 20.1%
Ja Morant as a sophomore: 22%
Shai Gilgeious-Alexander: 19.8%
None of this is to necessarily compare Topic directly to these players, and yes, some of them had better assist-to-turnover ratios. The point of importance is to take it all into context. You must understand the difficulty of passes being made, and the overall on-ball responsibilities. Most importantly, the shooter has to make the shot for the assist to get recorded.
When you factor in all of those aspects, Topic’s playmaking looks really favorable. The same creativity, composure, and angle manipulation that we saw in his rim pressure shines in his playmaking as well. Topic is terrific at changing angles to set up the roller or kicking out to shooters. Topic’s overall PPP jump from 1.059 (75th percentile) to 1.331 (83rd percentile) when you factor in his assists. Additionally, his pick-and-roll PPP jump from 1.059 (80th percentile) to 1.173 PPP (79th percentile) when you factor in his assists. Topic is constantly running the pick-and-roll and capitalizing on any slight mistake the defense makes.
It’s hard to envision Topic getting off to much of a better start than he has. He’s making it really easy to feel a certain type of way about him. While there are plenty of reasons to be over the moon about his potential, there are still a few red flags that give pause.
We already covered some of the athletic concerns, but Topic seems to have mostly overcome them. They’ll certainly be more prominent in the NBA, but what I once considered a glaring red flag I now see as more of an inconvenience that could be conquered. The bigger concern is what Topic does when he can’t get to the rim.
So far, Topic is scoring 0.97 PPS on all jumpers (60th percentile) and 1.04 PPS on three-pointers (60th percentile). Not too shabby overall. However, the sample size in this is really small, especially for someone who dominates the ball like Topic does. Over his six total games so far, Topic has taken only 30 jumpers, and 26 of those have come from three. He’s shooting 33.3% overall on jumpers (not great, Bob) and 34.6% from three. When we further break down his outside shooting based on competition, we see that Topic shot 5/12 from three (41.7%) in the Adriatic League Supercup but just 4/14 (28.6%) in Adriatic League play.
After presenting all of that, I’m going to go out on the courageous limb and say I have no idea what to think of Topic’s shooting. In general, the form doesn’t look that bad. Also, his soft at-rim scoring touch and 85.2% free-throw percentage are really promising indicators. What gives me the most cause for pause, though, is simply the lack of volume and the complete lack of a mid-range game.
Topic has only taken four jumpers inside the arc this season. Part of this is a symptom of his ability to score at the rim and also his playmaking. However, there are mechanical issues that limit his ability to pull up in traffic. As we can see, Topic doesn’t get much elevation on his jumper, has a slower release, and doesn’t generate tremendous amounts of space. He’s currently hindered by this, so it will likely be even more of a hurdle in the NBA.
If Topic maintains his 4.3 three-point attempts per game rate throughout the season, we should get a much better judge of where his outside shooting stands. To provide a slightly bigger sample, we can include his numbers from FIBU U18 play with Serbia from this summer. Over those seven games, Topic took 30 jumpers in which he scored 0.33 PPS (fifth percentile) while shooting 13.3%. Of those 30 jumpers, 21 of them were from three where he scored just 0.29 PPS (fourth percentile) on 9.5% shooting. Maybe Topic has improved since then, or maybe he’s on a hot streak that’s about to come crashing back down. Either way, we’ll soon find out how real pull-up threes like this are.
The final red flag with Topic comes on the defensive end. In the long run, this may not matter all that much if his offense is as productive as we hope it can be. However, the defense is really bad right now. The physicality and understanding of angles that Topic shows on offense are nowhere to be seen on defense. He gets lost in space, floats around, and kind of just does his own thing. Unless we see a substantial turnaround, and there’s plenty of basketball left, Topic could be one of the worst defenders in this draft class.
So much of Nikola Topic’s game goes against what I typically fall for in prospects. However, my intrigue continues to grow by the game. His comfort level running the pick-and-roll, combined with his at-rim scoring, playmaking, and angle manipulation, is such a unique combination for a player his age. In a draft class that has plenty of question marks, Topic could easily continue his ascension up the ranks.