Sometimes it seems like the Knicks have never experienced a stable floor general, but Derek Harper and Charlie Ward handled the point guard position with competence for all of the 1990s, so it’s only right that we celebrate their births, which occurred 59 and 50 years ago this week, respectively.
The search for a viable starting point guard has gone on so long that it’s become a running joke for the fanbase. Ward’s tenure actually came to an end when he was included in the package that brought Stephon Marbury aboard in 2004. Since 2007-08, which is the last season that Marbury was on the roster, the Knicks have featured 28 players who are listed as point guards on basketball-reference.com:
Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton, Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jarrett Jack, Ramon Sessions, Brandon Jennings, Chasson Randle, Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway, Jerian Grant, Shane Larkin, Pablo Prigioni, Raymond Felton, Toure’ Murry, Chris Smith, Mike Bibby, Baron Davis, Toney Douglas, Jeremy Lin, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, Sergio Rodriguez, Anthony Roberson.
So, yeah. Stability at the point guard position is not something New York is known for in recent decades. Back in the 90s, however, the Knicks had stability. Harper and Ward weren’t all-world talents, but they were consistent players who felt like they could be counted on to be at least satisfactory. Let’s honor each of their careers, starting with Harper.
Born: Oct. 13, 1961
Age today: 59-years-old
Harper feels like he was with the Knicks for at least a handful of years, but in reality it was only about two and a half seasons. He joined the Knicks in January of 1994, meaning his number 11 Knicks jersey was in rotation four years before Ntilikina was even born.
Despite his relatively short residence in New York, Harper made an impact. Over 216 career regular season games with the franchise, he averaged nearly 12 points (45% from the floor, 37% from three) and 5 rebounds, plus just over 1 steal.
In 1994-95, the year after the Knicks made it to the NBA Finals, Harper posted 11.5 points and almost 6 assists per game during the regular season while notching some significant box scores during the playoffs, including a 30-point, 8-board, 6-assist masterpiece in the series clinching victory during round one against the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as a 24-point, 8-assist performance in a round two victory over the Indiana Pacers.
In the 1994 Finals against the Houston Rockets, Harper did his very best, averaging 16 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and more than 2 steals per game, including a 23-point, 5-assist, 2-steal effort in the series finale.
Nowadays, Harper is part of the broadcast team for the Dallas Mavericks. He was born in Elberton, Georgia. Still, he’ll always be a Knick.
Born: Oct. 12, 1970
Age today: 50-years-old
Ward was a Knick for far longer than Harper. In fact, he’s become the answer to a ridiculous piece of trivia that will hopefully no longer matter once the Knicks sign Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and R.J. Barrett to new deals: Ward is the last Knicks draft pick to sign a second contract with the team.
Ward was selected 26th overall by the Knicks in the first round of the 1994 draft, not long after he had won the Heisman Trophy as quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles. He was with the Knicks for about nine and a half seasons, and over 580 regular season games averaged 6.5 points (41% from the field, 36% from deep), 4.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
Those aren’t gargantuan numbers — in fact, they aren’t so dissimilar from the stats of Ntilikina — but his competency as a ball-handler who could toss the ball into the post so Patrick Ewing could go to work cannot be underrated. Ward was a point guard in the era before points guards were expected to be among the top one or two scorers on a given roster, so at the time his lack of statistical prowess wasn’t considered as inadequate as it might be today.
He was slightly worse overall in the playoffs. Across 67 playoff games with the Knicks, Ward averaged 5.7 points (42% from the floor, 34% from three), 3.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals. It makes sense that his numbers slipped a bit in the playoffs, because in the postseason you play all the good teams and none of the bad teams. Plus, the pressure is turned up to the highest possible notch.
Ward was reliably okay, which is better than what the Knicks have had at point guard in the years since his departure. He was born in Thomasville, Georgia, which is a roughly five-hour car ride to the birthplace of Harper. Like Harper, Ward will always be a Knick.