Ranking the 70 Greatest Knicks of All-Time (Part 2)
To commemorate the Knicks’ 70th anniversary, Tommy Beer, in a two-part series, ranks the 70 greatest Knicks.
Earlier this week, Basketball Insiders released the first installment of a two-part series ranking the 70 greatest New York Knicks of all time to commemorate the franchises’ 70th season, which you can read here.
Now, Tommy Beer ranks the remainder, from #34 all the way down to #1:
34. Johnny Green
Green spent his early 20s in the Marine Corp and was 26 when the Knicks selected him fifth overall in 1959 draft. He became a full-time starter in 1961-62 and averaged 15.9 points and 13.3 rebounds. He bumped those averages up to 18.1 and 12.1 the following year. He was named to the All-Star team both seasons. In February 1962, he set a Knicks team record by grabbing at least 20 rebounds in three consecutive games. Walt Bellamy, Willis Reed and Tyson Chandler are the only other Knicks to have matched that streak.
33. Ray Williams
The Knicks selected Williams with the 10th overall selection in 1977. He struggled as a rookie, but then averaged at least 17 points and five dimes per game for each of his next three seasons. His best season with the Knicks was his third, when he averaged 20.9 ppg, 6.2 apg and 5.0 rpg in 1979-80.
32. Stephon Marbury
When the Knicks traded for Marbury in 2004, it seemed like a dream scenario for both the point guard from Brooklyn and his hometown team. Unfortunately, there were up and downs in the marriage, before it ended in an ugly divorce. Marbury posted solid numbers during his time in New York, with a cumulative average of 18.5 points and 7.1 assists. The Knicks also qualified for the postseason in 2003-04 (the only time they did so from 2002 through 2012), although they were quickly swept by the Nets. However, all the drama and bad basketball played during Marbury’s time in New York make it difficult to look back with much fondness.
31. Amar’e Stoudemire
“The Knicks are Back!” That’s what Amar’e boldly proclaimed for all the world to hear on the day he signed with New York. And for a few months, it looked like he was prophetic. Stoudemire started off his Knicks career with a bang, averaging 29.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in December of 2011. He set a franchise record by scoring at least 30 points in nine straight games that month. MVP chants rang out inside the Garden. He was named a starter in the All-Star game, the first Knick since Ewing to achieve that honor. Then, in February, the Knicks made the trade with Denver to bring Carmelo Anthony aboard. Predictably, STAT and Melo never meshed on the court. And, also predictably, Stoudemire’s knee began to betray him. He appeared in just 47 games in 2011-12 and then played just 29 games off the bench in 2012-13.
30. Tyson Chandler
Chandler had trouble staying healthy during his three seasons in New York, but he dominated the paint when he did suit up. He was phenomenal during his first season as a Knick in 2011-12. Chandler was incredibly efficient on the offensive end of the floor, shooting a league-leading 67.9 percent from the floor. At the time, Wilt Chamberlain was the only player in league history who had posted a higher FG percentage. Tyson remains the Knicks all-time leader in field goal percentage (63.8). No other qualified player is above 56 percent. However, Chandler was far more valuable on the defensive end. He spearheaded a revived Knicks defense and ended up winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011-12. He is the only Knick ever named DPOY. In June of 2014, in his first major move as Knicks GM, Phil Jackson traded Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Mavs in exchange for a package centered around Jose Calderon.
29. Marcus Camby
The highpoint of Camby’s Knicks tenure was the improbable run to the NBA Finals in 1999. When Patrick Ewing went down with an Achilles injury in the Eastern Conference Finals, Camby stepped in and stepped up. He averaged 14.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, three blocks and 2.2 steals over the course of that six-game series. Larry Bird called Camby the MVP of the ECF. The Camby Man also posted a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 4.1 in 2000-01, the highest single-season mark in Knicks history. Camby was traded to the Nuggets in exchange for Antonio McDyess on Draft Day in 2002.
28. Nathaniel Clifton
Sweetwater was not merely a significant contributor on the court for the Knicks; he also made a tremendous impact off the floor as well. Drafted by New York in 1950, Clifton became the first African-American player to sign a contract with an NBA team. He was 27 years old at the time, having played for the New York Rens and the Harlem Globetrotters in his early 20s. He also played for the Chicago American Giants in Negro League baseball. The Knicks advanced to the NBA Finals in each of his first three seasons in New York. He averaged 10.3 points and 8.5 boards over his seven-year Knicks career.
27. Kurt Thomas
Kurt’s claim to fame, other than the “Krazy Eyes” look he gave to officials after a questionable call, was leading the nation in both scoring (28.9 ppg) and rebounding (14.6 rpg) during his senior year at TCU. For five straight seasons with the Knicks – from 2000-01 to 2004-05 – Thomas averaged over 10 points per game. He averaged a career-best 14 points – along with 7.9 rebounds – in 2002-03. During the 2004-05 season, he averaged a double-double (11.5 points and 10.4 rebounds). He ranks third all-time in franchise history in defensive rebounds and fourth in blocks.
26. Walt Bellamy
Bellamy’s career numbers are undeniably impressive. He is one of just nine players in NBA history to tally more than 20,000 points and more than 14,000 rebounds in his career. The others are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Robert Parish, Moses Malone, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. In four seasons with the Knicks, Bellamy averaged a double-double with 18.9 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. He also holds a unique NBA record: Most regular-season games played in one season (88), thanks to the midseason trade that brought Dave DeBusschere to the Knicks.
25. Larry Johnson
By the time LJ arrived in New York (via a swap for Anthony Mason in July of 1996), he was no longer the high-flying dunk machine that starred at UNLV and won the Rookie of the Year in Charlotte. A back injury robbed Johnson of his athleticism and forced him to reinvent himself. LJ did just that, developing a stellar low-post game and a reliable jumper. He never averaged more than 15.5 points or six rebounds per game during his Knicks career, but he was a steady, reliable force on both ends of the floor. And, of course, his four-point play against the Pacers in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals will never be forgotten by any Knick fan that witnessed it.
24. Willie Naulls
Naulls put up incredible numbers during his Knicks tenure. During three seasons in the heart of his prime, 1959 through 1962, Naulls averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds per game. For his Knicks career, he averaged 19.3 points and 11.1 boards. He was named to the All-Star team four times. His scoring average of 19.3 is the fifth highest in Knicks history. While with the Knicks, Naulls was also the first African-American player to be named the captain of a major professional sports team.
23. Jerry Lucas
Lucas was a terrific player in his prime. He won Rookie of the Year in 1964 and was named MVP of the All-Star Game the following year. Lucas made the All-Star Team in six straight seasons, from 1964 through 1969, and then again in 1971. By the time he arrived in New York, he was at the tail end of his career. He played only three seasons for the Knicks, his final three seasons in the NBA. He averaged 16.7 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists during that first season (1971-72) with the Knicks. To this day, he remains the only player in franchise history to average double-digit points and double-digit rebounds while also averaging more than four assists per game over the course of a full season. In addition, over 16 playoff games that year, Lucas averaged 18.6 points, 10.8 boards and 5.3 assists, playing 46.1 minutes per contest. The following season Lucas played far fewer minutes and had less of an impact, but he was still a valued contributor on the 1973 title team. When he won that ring with the Knicks, he became the first man to win a championship in high school, college, the Olympics and the NBA.
22. Bob McAdoo
McAdoo only played a total of 171 games as a Knick over parts of three seasons; however, he packed plenty of points and rebounds into that short period of time. In 1976-77, he averaged 26.7 points and 12.7 rebounds. The following year he averaged 26.5 points and 12.8 boards per contest. Those are the only two times any Knick has averaged at least 26 points and 12 rebounds in the same season. In addition, McAdoo has the highest career scoring average as a Knick in franchise history (26.7 ppg), barely edging out Bernard King (26.5 ppg). McAdoo is also the team’s all-time leader in minutes per game (39.8).
21. Anthony Mason
Much like Oakley, the late, great Mase was the personification of the rugged 90s Knicks. He was a kid from Queens who attended tiny Tennessee Valley State. Mason bounced around the NBA and the minor leagues for a bit before latching on the with the Knicks in 1991. For the next five years, he captured the heart of the city by putting everything he had on the line every time stepped on the floor. He was a vital contributor on teams that went deep into the postseason every year. Belying his burly appearance and aggressive attitude, Mase had a soft touch around the basket and an incredibly high basketball IQ. In many respects, he was the predecessor to the modern-day “point forward.” He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1994-95 and led the NBA in minutes played in 1995-96.
20. Bill Cartwright
Remembered mostly as the starting center on the hated Bulls team’s of the early 1990s, Cartwright’s career got off to a great start in New York. He averaged 21.7 points and 8.9 rebounds as a rookie in 1979-80. In the process, he became the only Knick in franchise history to average over 20 points per contest as a rookie. Cartwright also cracked the 20-point plateau his second season. A debilitating foot injury cost him the better part of two seasons in the mid-80s and he was eventually traded to Chicago for Charles Oakley in June of 1988. Cartwright ranks second in blocks on the team’s all-time list and was in top-10 in scoring until Melo knocked him out earlier this year.
19. Latrell Sprewell
The Knicks were able to get the incredibly talented Sprewell at a steep discount (Terry Cummings, Chris Mills and an aging John Starks) in January of 1999 due to his infamous confrontation with Golden State coach P. J. Carlesimo. He played 37 games for the Knicks that first season in New York, coming off the bench in 33 of them. However, he played superbly in the postseason, sparking the eighth-seeded Knicks all the way to the NBA Finals. The Spurs knocked out the Knicks in five games, but Sprewell averaged 26 points per contest. He had 35 points and 10 boards in Game 5, the last time in which New York participated in a Finals game. He averaged 17.9 points over his five seasons a Knickerbocker.
18. Mark Jackson
Action Jackson was born in Brooklyn and played collegiately in Queens at St. John’s University. Thus, Knicks fans knew what they were getting and were ecstatic when New York snagged him with the 18th pick in the 1987 draft. His chemistry with Ewing was immediate. Jackson was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1987-88. His assist per game average (8.0) is the highest in franchise history. He also ranks sixth in steals.
17. Micheal Ray Richardson
In terms of pure talent, athleticism and basketball ability, very few rate higher than Richardson. The Knicks selected Sugar Ray fourth overall in the 1978 NBA draft (two spots ahead of Larry Bird), and Richardson lived up to the hype early on. In 1979-80, Richardson led the NBA in assists (10.1) and steals (3.2) while scoring 15.3 points per game. He would earn All-Defensive First Team honors in two of his first three years in the league. Richardson recorded 18 triple-doubles as a Knick, the second most in franchise history. He still ranks second All-Time in NBA history in steals per game (2.63 spg). Sadly, in 1986, Richardson was banned for life by NBA commissioner David Stern for violations of the league’s drug policy.
16. Dick Barnett
Barnett arrived in New York in October of 1965, via a trade that sent forward Bob Boozer to the Lakers. Barnett averaged 23.1 points per game that first season as a Knick, which was his career-high, and was named to the All-Star team that year. He averaged at least 12 points per game in each of his first 12 seasons. Although he was 33 years old by 1970, Barnett was a key contributor on New York’s first title team. Starting in the backcourt beside Frazier, Barnett averaged 14.9 points per game in the regular season and bumped that up 16.9 points in the playoffs. He scored 21 points in Game 7 vs. the Lakers. Barnett remained the Knicks starting shooting guard until they acquired Earl Monroe.
15. Carl Braun
Braun began his Knicks career in 1947 and didn’t play his final game in orange and blue until 1961. He appeared in 740 games for the Knicks, which is fourth all-time in franchise history. Only Ewing, Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley stand ahead of him. He scored 10,449 points as a Knick, which ranks fifth all-time, behind only the big three (Ewing, Frazier, Reed) and Allan Houston. Braun led the team in scoring during his first seven seasons and was a five-time All-Star. It is also important to note that he missed two years of his prime (1950 through 1952) to serve in the United States Army.
14. Dick McGuire
McGuire is in the conversation for greatest Knicks point guard not named Walt Frazier. McGuire played eight seasons in New York and was named to the All-Star game five times. In 1949-50, he dished out a then-NBA record 386 assists, which stood as team’s highest total by a rookie for nearly four decades, until Mark Jackson came along. He led New York to three straight NBA Finals (1951-52-53). His Knicks No. 15 was formally retired on Mar. 14, 1992.
13. John Starks
Starks is still a cult hero in NYC, the result of playing with an unmatched fire and passion that Knicks fans loved. The undrafted kid out of Tulsa, Oklahoma who was bagging groceries a few months before securing an NBA contract, also developed himself into a superb NBA player. During his outstanding eight-year career with the Knicks, Starks was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1992-1993, became an NBA All-Star in 1994, and was awarded the League’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1996-1997. He averaged 14.1 points per game and remains 11th in total points (8,489), eighth in assists (2,394), seventh in steals (711) and first in made three-pointers (982) in Knicks history. Starks is also fourth all-time in postseason points. Oh, and this one time he dunked on Horace Grant (and MJ) and every teenage Knicks fan in the 1990s had a poster of “The Dunk” on their wall.
12. Carmelo Anthony
Ranking Melo is difficult, as he is a better player than some of the names listed above him; however, he has played a majority of his career in Denver (564 career games as a Nugget vs. 404 games as a Knick). Also, he enjoyed his greatest team success and playoff performances as a Nugget. Denver qualified for the postseason in each of his seven seasons, whereas the Knicks have failed to qualify for the playoffs for four straight years. Nonetheless, Anthony has authored some remarkable performances in his relatively short time in a Knicks uniform. He poured in a franchise record 62 points back on January 24th, 2014 in a win over the Bobcats at MSG. In addition, he led the 2012-13 Knicks to 54-regular season wins and helped New York advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first (and only) time this century. In the years since, he’s been the lone bright spot on some bad teams, giving fans a reason to pay attention to a poor product.
11. Charles Oakley
His numbers don’t jump out at you, and his stats won’t compare to many others on this list, but Oakley is one of those players whose true value was never measured by statistics alone. Oak was truly beloved by Knicks fans in the 1990’s due to his blue-collar work ethic and tenacious effort on a nightly basis. Hard-nosed defense and rebounding were Oakley’s calling cards. He ranks 10th all-time in NBA history in offensive rebounds, one spot behind Hakeem Olajuwon and one spot ahead of Tim Duncan. In 1994, he became an NBA All-Star and was named to the league’s All-Defensive First Team.
10. Earl Monroe
Monroe enjoyed his greatest individual success as a member of the Baltimore Bullets. He averaged 23.7 ppg for Baltimore over the first four years if his career. Then, on Nov. 10, 1971, the Knicks traded Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash to obtain Monroe. Pearl adjusted his game to fit in alongside Clyde once he arrived in NYC. Monroe averaged just 20.6 minutes per game that first season in New York (due partly to nagging knee injuries) and scored only 11.4 ppg. He averaged 15.5 points for the Knicks second championship team in 1972-73. He later averaged over 20 ppg in 1974-75 and 1975-76.
9. Allan Houston
Houston will forever have a special place in the hearts of Knicks fans because he drove a stake through the heart of Pat Riley on May 16, 1999. With time winding down in the deciding Game 5 of the Knicks-Heat first-round playoff series, Houston curled off a screen, caught the pass and took a couple of dribbles before releasing a running one-hander from 16-feet. The ball danced on the front of the rim and bounced off the backboard before falling through the net with 0.8 seconds left on the clock. New York became just the second eight seed in NBA history to knock off a number one. That Knicks team would eventually advance all the way to the Finals, which is the last time the ‘Bockers have scaled those heights. Houston went to back-to-back All-Star games in 2000 and 2001 and is among Knicks’ all-time greats in several offensive categories. Houston is fourth on the all-time Knicks career scoring list, trailing only Ewing, Frazier and Reed. He is also second in three-point field goals and third in free throw percentage (.872).
8. Bill Bradley
Bradley is one of the most unique players in basketball history, let alone Knicks annals. He is a NBA Hall-of-Famer, an All-Star, and All-American; he was also a Senator and a Rhodes Scholar. Bradley was the prototypical “glue guy” on the Knicks title teams in the early 70s. He had his best season in 1972-1973, when he played in all 82 games and averaged career-highs in points (16.1) and assists (4.5), while also chipping in 3.7 rebounds. He ranks 10th in points, sixth in assists and third in games played on the Knicks all-time list.
7. Harry Gallatin
Harry “The Horse” was one of the NBA’s best rebounders during the 1950s. Although he was undersized at just 6-foot-6, he averaged double-digit rebounds each season from 1950 through 1958. Gallatin led the NBA in boards in 1953-54, pulling down 15.3 rebounds per game. He grabbed 33 rebounds in one game in 1953, a Knicks record that still stands. Gallatin was also incredibly durable. He played in 610 consecutive regular-season games and 57 postseason contests. He was named an All-Star in seven consecutive seasons, from 1950-51 through 1956-57.
6. Bernard King
King was a genuine shooting star, and if it weren’t for debilitating injuries, who knows how high he’d rank on this list. When healthy in his prime, King was arguably the most talented player in franchise history. His career scoring average (26.5) is the second highest amongst all Knicks. On January 31st and February 1st in 1984, King posted back-to-back 50-point outings against the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks. He was unstoppable in the playoffs that season as well, willing New York to a first-round series victory over the Pistons. King averaged a mind-boggling 42.6 points per game in that series while shooting 60.4 percent from the floor. The following season (1984-85), he led the NBA in scoring with an average of 32.9 ppg.
5. Richie Guerin
The team was often not very good during Guerin’s tenure with the Knicks, making the playoffs just once, but Guerin was great. He is one of only two Knicks in franchise history to average over 29 points per game for a full season, averaging 29.5 points in 1961-62. But Guerin wasn’t just a scorer. In that aforementioned 1961-62 campaign, he also averaged 6.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists. Per BasketballReference.com, Guerin is one of only four players in NBA history to average at least 29.5 points, 6.5 assists and six rebounds over the course of a full season. The other three players in that elite club are Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. During his prime, from 1957-58 through 1961-62, Guerin averaged 7.2 rebounds and six assists per game. His individual game career-highs of 57 points and 21 assists stood as franchise records for more than 50 years.
4. Dave DeBusschere
On December 19, 1968, the New York Knicks traded center Walt Bellamy and guard Howard Komives to the Pistons for Dave DeBusschere. It’s the single greatest trade the Knicks ever engineered. A gritty, underrated star on New York’s two title teams, DeBusschere was the final piece of the championship puzzle. His resume is incredibly impressive. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team in each of the award’s first six years of existence. (Remarkably, at least two Knicks were named to the NBA’s All-Defense First Team each season from 1968-69 thru 1973-74.) DeBusschere made eight All-Star games, was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983 and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
3. Willis Reed
Reed’s incredible career was somewhat limited due to injuries. He played only ten NBA seasons (all with the Knicks) and played more than 69 games only seven times. Nonetheless, he was incredibly dominant in his prime. He is also the author of some of the greatest moments in franchise history; none more memorable than him limping out of the tunnel in the old MSG at approximately 7:34 pm on May 8th, 1970, fifteen minutes before the start of Game 7. Reed wasn’t as flashy as Clyde, but he was the heart-and-soul of those championships teams. “The Captain” was selected Finals MVP both years the Knicks captured the crown. He was also the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1964-65 and Most Valuable Player in 1969-70.
2. Walt “Clyde” Frazier
Willis Reed scored the first four points in the Knicks epic Game 7 victory over the Lakers in the 1970 NBA Finals, but Frazier did just about everything else that night. He poured in 36 points, dished out 19 assists, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded five steals. Read that last sentence again. Walt Frazier did all that in the single most important game in New York basketball history. Clyde is a living legend in the truest sense of the word. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in assists. He was named to the NBA All-Defense First Team seven consecutive times. Not only did he average over 20 points per game six times in his career, but he was also an excellent rebounder for a guard, averaging at least six rebounds per game in six straight seasons. Over a six-year stretch, from 1970 through 1976, Clyde averaged 21.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists per contest.
1. Patrick Ewing
First, let’s start with the stats. Ewing is the all-time franchise leader in points (having scored 9,048 more career points than Frazier, who sits in second), rebounds (Patrick grabbed 2,345 more career boards than Willis Reed), blocks and steals. And, yeah, Patrick never won a ring, but he put the Knicks on his back and carried them deep into the postseason with a subpar supporting cast year after year after year. He never quite reached the mountaintop, but is it fair to place the blame squarely on his shoulders? There are only three genuine contenders for the title of “The Greatest Knick of All Time.” Ewing, Frazier and Reed. The reason Patrick gets the top spot here is because he did the most with the least. Consider this: There were six (yes, SIX) Hall-of-Famers on Willis and Clyde’s legendary championship teams. In 1969-70, three of the Knicks five starters (Reed, Frazier and DeBusschere) each made the NBA All-Defensive First-Team. The 1972-73 Knicks had five players that were eventually named among the NBA’s “50 Greatest Players.” In contrast, Ewing never played alongside a teammate that made more than one All-Star team! Think about that for a second. Patrick Ewing is quite possibly the most underappreciated superstar in the history of New York sports, and the greatest Knick that ever lived.
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