Yahoo! Sports picked an all-time five-man lineup for every NBA team. Kelly Dwyer handled the honors for the Knicks and came up with Patrick Ewing, Dave DeBusschere, Bernard King, Walt Frazier, and Allan Houston. Two of those picks = duh. Two = solid. One = way off.
Anyone familiar with Knick canon (> Nick Cannon) knows Ewing and Frazier are 1 and 1A. No one else is on their level. Since trading Clyde to Cleveland, the franchise has spent 40 years wandering the point guard desert, thirsty ever since, the occasional hoped-for oasis (three-time All-Star Micheal Ray Richardson; Stephon Marbury) never more than a mirage.
Clyde's Mona Lisa was 1970's championship-clinching Game 7: 36 points, 19 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals. Got halcyon? But don't sleep on the rest of his career. He averaged 20+ points per game six years in a row. Only two Knick point guards since ever averaged 20 ppg, each doing so once. Any guesses?* Clyde hit 49% of his field goals as a Knick. From 1970-1976, he averaged 21 points, 6.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds. Steals weren't recorded until 1974, midway through his career; in 1975 he averaged 2.4 per game. As New York point guards go, Walt Frazier is the Hope diamond among decades of dung.
Dwyer's description of Ewing is aptly sad: "A needlessly beleaguered, endlessly mistreated, and quite possibly underrated pivotman for the ages." An 11-time All-Star; selected to 7 All-NBA teams; career peaks of 28 points per game, 12 rebounds, and 4 (!) blocks. Ewing led the league three times in defensive win shares, something vaunted defender Alonzo Mourning never did once. The Knicks did not miss the playoffs Ewing's last thirteen years in New York. In the 15 years Patrick patrolled the paint, the Knicks won 80 playoff games. In the 15 since, they've won nine. Dwyer points out that over a decade, Ewing never missed more than four games in any season. He accomplished all this despite never being paired with another great player. No other NBA great suffered the poverty of teammate talent Ewing did. Forget a Big Three; he was a Big One his entire Broadway run, a player so dominant he renders fellow Knick Hall-of-Fame center Willis Reed - who captained both Knick championship teams, played in seven All-Star games, and was MVP in 1970 - a clear second-best who's acknowledged Ewing's superiority.
Dwyer went with Dave DeBusschere at one of the forward spots. I didn't see him play, and I've always wondered how much better he was than, say, Charles Oakley. Was one man's legacy privileged because it was built during title-winning seasons, alongside Hall-of-Fame teammates? If Charles Oakley played with Frazier and Earl Monroe instead of Mark Jackson and Gerald Wilkins, would he out-DeBusschere Dave? Statistical comparisons between the two are meaningless, having played different roles in different eras for different teams with different styles and needs, as did the great Knick forwards of the prehistoric, pre-Red Holzman era. Do you know Willie "The Whale" Naulls was a four-time All-Star who averaged 20 points and 12 boards a game over seven seasons in NY? Or the first great Knick, Harry "The Horse" Gallatin (class of '48!), who became a seven-time All-Star and a Hall-of-Famer? Hey, "greatest generation": if you're so great, how about coming up with a nickname that isn't just the first alliterative animal you can think of?
With little film available and statistics no help, I called my father. Papi Miranda's been watching the Knicks for over 50 years. He played at Madison Square Garden back in high school. Long before Phil Jackson became a coaching legend, I knew him from my father's tales of watching Jackson brick hook shots with such violence it seemed the backboard would break. I asked what stood out about DeBusschere's game.
"He fit in like a perfect piece from the very beginning," he said. "There was no gradual working into the lineup...he was put in and the machine started working. Immediately." My father talked about DeBusschere being a "hard worker under the boards" who often defended Wilt Chamberlain and other bigger players, defended them tough. Still, that all sounded like Oakley. What separated them? What made DeBusschere more than just a glorified Oak Man?
"DeBusschere had an offensive game. He was tough on defense - he wasn't dirty. Oakley could be...overly-aggressive. Oakley could hit an outside shot, but he didn't have the fluidity of DeBusschere. DeBusschere could shoot from outside, and if he had to he could drive hard to the basket."
Another not-to-be-underrated aspect of Dave's greatness: he was the Knick general manager in 1985 when the team won the Ewing lottery. Papi Miranda sealed the deal with a story about his own father, a grandfather I never met: "He liked DeBusschere a lot. He used to call him El Carnicero. El Carnicero means 'the butcher.' He heard 'David DeBusschere' as 'David The Butcher,' so he called him El Carnicero." There you have it. Put The Whale, The Horse, and El Carnicero in a room together, you know who's coming out on top. The Butcher.
Dwyer chose Allan Houston as the second guard and there's. Just. No. Freaking. Way. Houston will always hold a special place in my rectum, which I injured celebrating his confirms-the-cosmos-are-random-yet-righteous affirmation-of-a-game-winner vs. the 1999 Heat. But there's no way he's an all-time Knick. Even in his peak years, Houston's passing, defense, and intangibles were......intangible. A very good player. Maybe not even the best guard on his own team (Latrell Sprewell was a natural two-guard but played small forward alongside Houston). Not an all-timer.
What about John Starks? Starks broke in with the Knicks because of his defense and his energy, leading to an All-Defensive 2nd Team spot in 1993 and an All-Star appearance in 1994. No one played Michael Jordan tougher - on both ends. He was a spark plug on offense, a tertiary talent too often forced to play second banana. Now, if you made a top-five most beloved Knick lineup, Starks might be on it. But all the all-time Knicks so far are Hall of Famers, and neither Starks nor Houston are on that level.
Earl "The Pearl" Monroe's trade from Baltimore to New York was such a surprise, it's easy to forget he spent nine years as a Knick versus only five as a Bullet. He shot less often but more accurately in New York, winning a title in 1973 and reaching the All-Star game twice as a Knick before induction in the Hall of Fame in 1990. Earl was a legend even before he joined the Knicks and thankfully his nickname isn't "The Eel" or "The Emu." I'd pick him over Houston and Starks, easily. But there's someone I'd take even ahead of Pearl.
There's a guard who averaged 20 points, 6+ rebounds, and 5+ assists per game over his eight-year Knick career, similar to what Frazier put up at his peak. This guard, a native New Yorker, once averaged 30 points per game for an entire season, the only Knick guard to do so (I'm rounding up from 29.5; so sue me). One year he averaged eight rebounds per game; another, he averaged seven assists. This guard played in six straight All-Star games as a Knick and became a Hall of Famer two years ago. This guard is Richie Guerin.
Who would your all-time Knick lineup be? Share your who's and why's in the comments below.
*Trivia answer: Ray Williams and Stephon Marbury