Hello, Posting and Toasting. I am Crazy Eyes, and I am the proud owner of a basketball spreadsheet that attempts to rank every player ever, and has basically taken over my life for the last two years. I asked a simple question back then: What if Bill James's methods for rating baseball careers could be used on basketball players?
Recently, I self-published a book that ranks nearly 1,000 basketball players (Jared Jeffries is #919, in case you were wondering), and in order to sell copies to people other than my mother, I came up with the idea of breaking the list down by team. Since the Knicks are my team, and one of the original 1946-47 BAA franchises, I started with them. Forgive me if some of the player comments are common Knick knowledge; I re-purposed a few sentences from the book here and there.
Requirements: Five seasons and 5,000 minutes; or fewer seasons and 7,000 minutes. Bernard King barely qualifies; the current Knick stars don't yet.
20. Kurt Thomas
Power Forward, 1999-2005, 2013-
Thomas has made a 17-year career out of tough post defense and an 18-foot jump shot. He led the NCAA in scoring and rebounding for TCU in 1995. His NBA career was less impressive, but he was an integral piece of the Knicks' 1999 playoff run, and averaged his only career double-double (11.5/ 10.4) for them in 2005.
19. Bill Bradley
Small Forward, 1968-1977
Statistically, Bradley's contributions weren't mind-blowing, but he was a starter on the 1970 and 1973 championship teams. He was probably a better Senator than a ballplayer.
18. Mark Jackson
Point Guard, 1988-1992, 2001-2002
Jackson was a late-first round steal in the 1987 draft. He got off to a promising start, winning the 1988 ROY, but fell out of favor and ended up first backing up Mo Cheeks and then getting traded for Doc Rivers and Charles Smith. He returned for a not-particularly-memorable year and a half late in his career.
17. Richie Guerin
Shooting Guard, 1957-1963
Guerin put up some huge pace-inflated numbers on bad Knick teams, including a 29.5/ 6.4/ 6.9 in 1962. He made six All-Star teams as a Knick, but only made the playoffs once.
16. Larry Johnson
Small Forward, 1997-2001
LJ was diminished by a chronic back injury by the time he came to the Knicks, but was still capable of a few big playoff performances (the 4-point play against the Pacers), and was an underrated defender. His Knick numbers aren't as bad as they seem, given the glacial pace that the Van Gundy teams played at.
15. David Lee
Power Forward, 2006-2010
Lee anchored some of the least watchable Knick teams ever. He grew by leaps and bounds as an offensive threat, peaking with a 20.2/ 11.7/ 3.6 in his last season in New York. His defense is better left un-described.
14. Walt Bellamy
Bellamy's first season in New York was quite good. He averaged 23 points and 16 rebounds after arriving from Baltimore in an early-season trade. His greatest contribution to the franchise was probably getting traded to Detroit for Dave DeBusschere, which allowed Willis Reed to play his natural position, center.
13. Dave DeBusschere
Power Forward, 1969-1974
The starting 4 for both N.Y. championship teams, DeBusschere would rank even higher if he hadn't retired when he was 33 and still in his prime. He made 5 All Star teams as a Knick. There's this tendency to lionize the supporting cast of the 1970-1973 Knicks, and I wouldn't know, I wasn't there, but the spreadsheet says that the Knicks were great back then mainly because of Frazier and Reed.
12. Dick Barnett
Shooting Guard, 1966-1974
Barnett averaged 23 ppg for the 1966 team, and stuck around long enough to be an important contributor to the 1970 title. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Earl Monroe in 1972.
11. Kenny Sears
Sears had a stellar 1959 season, averaging 21 points and 9 boards while leading the league in FG%. He jumped to the San Francisco Saints of the ABL in 1962, and then briefly returned to the Knicks before being traded for Tom Gola. Sears seems to have been terrific at efficiently scoring points (.455/.826 is nothing to sneeze at for the just-post-shot-clock era), but didn't do all that much else. Maybe a bit like a smaller David Lee.
10. Earl Monroe
Shooting Guard, 1972-1980
Monroe either left his best seasons in Baltimore, or seriously sacrificed his shots and numbers to accomodate Walt Frazier. He did average 18 points on 53% shooting during the 1973 playoff run. Monroe is one of the legends whose numbers don't completely back up his reputation. If you take out his Bullets years, you're left with a guy who topped out at 20.9 ppg for the 40-win 1975 Knicks.
9. Allan Houston
Shooting Guard, 1997-2005
Houston was a terrific pure shooter who twice averaged 20+ ppg for the Knicks, and sunk the Heat with a running one-hander in the 1999 playoffs. Unfortunately, knee injuries ended his career at the age of 33. I always wished you could put Houston's shooting form into Sprewell's body, as Houston's killer instinct was a bit under-developed. Except for the '99 playoffs, the 2000 season, and the game where he dropped 53 on Kobe.
8. John Starks
Shooting Guard, 1991-1998
Starks was Allan Houston's polar opposite-- a fiery streak shooter known for his defense. Starks shouldn't get all the blame for the Knicks' 1994 Finals disappointment; what about Pat Riley's decision to leave an ice-cold Starks out there for almost the entire game? Starks played with some serious balls, and got more out of his skills than just about anyone. Still, he probably should have been a sixth man the whole time.
7. Bernard King
Small Forward, 1983-1987
King led the Knicks to a near-upset of the eventual champion Celtics in 1984, then averaged 32.9 points in 55 games in 1985 before tearing his ACL. King was out for two years, and would only play 6 more games in a Knick uniform. I just missed seeing Bernard as a Knick; I would have been 6 years old when he got hurt. Some people really, really love him, but injuries kept him out of 50% of the Knicks games from 1983-1987. My spreadsheet isn't very kind to Bill Walton, either.
6. Anthony Mason
This was a strange Knick career. Mason began as an offensively limited, tough-as-nails bench player, and ended it as a Don Nelson point-power-forward experiment. I think if he doesn't get traded for LJ, he ultimately becomes a liability. How easy was he to defend when the Knicks met the Hornets in the playoffs? You back off of him, and let him dribble too much, and miss mid-range jumpers. Screw Don Nelson.
5. Bill Cartwright
Cartwright had some terrific seasons for the Knicks-- a 21.7/ 8.9 as a rookie, for example-- before foot injuries shut him down for almost all of 1985 and 1986. His parting gift to the franchise was being traded for Charles Oakley. Playing two centers together doesn't work unless they're Duncan and Robinson. Olajuwon-Sampson was a modest success. Cartwright-Ewing worked about as well as Bellamy and Willis Reed.
4. Charles Oakley
Power Forward, 1989-1998
Oakley was primarily a defensive force, though he was a pretty good passer, and had 20-foot range on a strange-looking jump shot. Oakley, Mason, Starks, and Patrick Ewing led one of the greatest defenses of all time during the Pat Riley era, and Oakley often drew the other team's best big man. Oak was the baddest Knick ever. Is there even any competition?
3. Willis Reed
Reed spent all 10 years in the NBA with the Knicks. He had his best seasons immediately after Walt Bellamy was traded, including a 21.7/13.9 in 1970, and starred in the most dramatic moment in Knicks' history when he scored a quick 4 points in the deciding game of the 1970 Finals despite barely being able to walk. Reed was the Finals MVP in both 1970 and 1973.
2. Patrick Ewing
Ewing's tenure in New York was ultimately frustrating, as the Knicks struggled to build a team around him in his early years, and injuries diminished him in his later years. In the middle years, Ewing anchored a historically great defense, and came painfully close to winning the Knicks' as-of-yet-un-won third championship. He made 11 All-Star teams as a Knick. All he needed was a real second scorer!
1. Walt "Clyde" Frazier
Point Guard, 1968-1977
Clyde was a great player on both ends of the floor-- a lockdown defender, and an elite point guard who closed out the Lakers in the "Willis Reed game" with 36 points and 19 assists. Frazier was the best player on the best Knick teams (he could have easily won both of Willis Reed's Finals MVPs), and his selection as the best Knick ever is really a no-brainer. Though Ewing was Clyde's equal as a regular-season performer, Clyde was a superior clutch performer (and is about 100,000 times cooler than Patrick, though that isn't factored in). Frazier averaged 20+ ppg in 6 consecutive seasons, from 1970-1975.
For my next team, I'm working on the Philadelphia / Golden State Warriors. You'll see Spree on that list.
Thanks for reading, everyone. See you in the conference finals.