The Greatest Knick of All Time
Plus, Part I of my offseason predictions, and a surprise appearance from New York's front office this weekend.
Good morning! I hope the first week of the offseason has been treating you well. I’ve been busy getting myself ready for what promises to be an eventful summer, and you’re going to see the fruits of that labor this week. Some publications put out one offseason primer article, but not this one. Nope…this entire week is dedicated to getting you ready for every nook and cranny of what lies ahead, starting today. And then we’ll really start t dig in over the next 10 weeks.
I’ll also be putting a cap on my season-long countdown of the 75 Greatest Knicks today with my take on the only two men who were ever going to top this list. We’ll get to that, plus the predictions, right after news & notes. But first, if ever there was a time to become a full KFS Newsletter subscriber, that time is right now:
🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 Worldwide Wes and Allan Houston made an appearance at Game 1 of Mavs vs Jazz, a contest which saw Utah (barely) defeat a Luka-less Dallas squad 99-93. With Doncic out, Jalen Brunson took on more of the scoring and playmaking duties for the home team, finishing with 24 points on 9-of-24 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, and two turnovers. His usual high level of efficiency predictably took a hit without Doncic there to soak up Utah’s attention, but overall it was a solid performance for a guy making his first postseason start.
Were Wes and Houston present to lay New York’s intentions bare ahead of free agency? It’s hard to argue otherwise, although it’s impossible to ignore Brunson’s counterpart in this game, Donovan Mitchell, whose name may also come up in conjunction with the Knicks this summer should Utah get bounced early.
Also present at the game was Julius Randle, who is from Dallas. It’s unclear whether he was there with New York’s front office contingent or whether this was merely a happy coincidence, although he was seen seated next to Wes at one point, so there’s that.
I’ll have much, much more on Randle, Brunson and the possibilities that lie ahead this summer in tomorrow’s newsletter.
🏀 More news continues to emerge from New Orleans that would seem to suggest a rocky marriage between the Pelicans and the number one pick in the 2019 Draft. As per Andrew Lopez of ESPN:
According to multiple sources, there's currently a difference of opinion between the Pelicans and Williamson on whether he is healthy enough to play. The team maintains that the bone in Williamson's foot hasn't healed enough for him to take the floor.
The whole article is worth a read, and it paints a very uneasy picture of the state of things between franchise and star player. Might the Knicks be able to take advantage? I’ll have some thoughts on that coming later in the week as well.
🏀 With the Pelicans making the playoffs, the Knicks will officially enter the draft lottery in the 11th slot. That means a 2.0 percent chance at the top pick, a 9.4 percent chance at a top-four pick, a 77.6 percent chance at the 11th pick, and a 12.6 percent chance of falling to 12th. The lottery will be held on Tuesday, May 17.
Offseason Predictions, Part I
Welcome to everyone’s favorite waste of ink, where I write about things I think will happen, meaning they absolutely, positively will not happen, and in fact, the opposite will almost surely occur instead. Good times.
Before we get to the first of my three major offseason predictions though, let’s go back and revisit my preseason predictions and see how I did.
1. Julius Randle improves…and doesn’t make All-NBA
Here’s what I wrote about Julius back in the beginning of October:
Combine a tireless work ethic with a full season of real NBA point guards, and I suspect Randle is about to end the conversation about about when “star players” are going to come to the Knicks, because one is most certainly already here.
Of all the thoughts and assumptions I had about this team and its players going into the season, my biggest miss by far was on Randle. I heard - and dismissed - all the arguments about empty gyms, and the Hawks creating the blueprint, and unsustainable shooting from a player who had never previously shown such proficiency.
Never in a million years did I think that he would revert back to 2019-20 form, let alone fall to far lower depths. Just think: his effective field goal percentage rose by 2.1 percent from his first season in New York to his second…and then fell by 5.8 percent from his second to his third.
2. A Knick rookie plays over 1000 minutes
This was a miss, but I’d like to request an asterisk, as Quentin Grimes - the player I thought likeliest to pass the threshold - was on pace to blow past this total easily before his injury. Grimes had been averaging just over 23 minutes per game in the 25 games prior to his knee injury, yet he played just 90 minutes total in the final 23 games. He still finished with 786 minutes played.
3. Obi blows up
I chickened out on putting any numbers on this except for one: that Obi would average at least 18 minutes a night by the time all was said and done. I also said that there would be zero question he had made a leap in his sophomore season.
Based on how he finished the year, I feel pretty good about the last part, and while the minutes prediction wasn’t that far off base (he ended up averaging 17.1 minutes a game), that number was arbitrarily boosted by Randle’s late season shutdown. I’ll take half credit.
4. The Knicks do not make a trade before the deadline
I wasn’t thinking broad enough, focusing mostly on the possibility of a star trade here and discounting the notion of a smaller swap. Regarding players on the roster I thought were obvious trade candidates, I wrote:
Knox is the only name, and his nearly $6 million salary is a funky number that doesn’t work easily in cap dump scenarios because of matching rules and the fact that most non-rookie salaries are too big to take back in exchange.
Little did I know that the Knicks would find a rookie contract-for-rookie contract trade and be willing to attach a first to make it happen. No credit.
5. The Knicks make the playoffs as a top-six seed
I went on to specifically predict 47 wins and a six-seed. Obviously, a gross miscalculation in terms of final results, but a couple of notes in my defense:
New York finished the year with a better net rating than the actual sixth seed, the Chicago Bulls.
They had the point differential of a .500 team.
New York went from having the third best “clutch” net rating in the league (which led them to a 20-16 record in games featuring a “clutch” situation) to the worst, resulting in an 18-26 record in those games. If you flip that 18-26 record to 26-18, that’s a 45-37 record, which would be a game behind the sixth seeded Bulls (and, if one of those flipped “clutch” games was one of their two close losses to Chicago, they’d have been the six seed).
In other news, if my mother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.
Bonus Prediction: Kemba logs his fewest PPG since his rookie year
I also said I thought he’d be the 4th or 5th leading scorer on the Knicks. The final results: 6th leading scorer on the team, lowest points per game in any NBA season. Sucks to be right about this one.
Final Tally: 2 / 6 (I’m giving myself half a point for the rookie minutes prediction, half for Obi and one for Kemba)
Translation: don’t come to me for winning lotto numbers.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the first of my three offseason predictions:
Draft: The Knicks Trade Their Pick
Before you get the pitchforks and torches out, please keep in mind that this isn’t what I want them to do, only what I think they will do if you forced me to say right now. I would like for this team to lean fully into the youth movement, draft someone wherever they land in the lottery (or trade up, if such a thing is feasible) and basically have the sort of year we thought they were going to have two seasons ago, only with the kids further along.
I don’t think that’s going to happen though. Why? A few reasons. First, this team currently has seven rookie contract players who are either in or could be in the rotation next season in RJ, IQ, Obi, Mitch, Grimes, Cam and Deuce. Throw in Jericho Sims, who will be converted from a two-way deal to a regular NBA contract once the new league year begins, and that makes eight.
Obviously a lot can change. McBride isn’t a lock to make next year’s rotation and they may very well view him as found money: if he pops, great, but we’re not going to alter our plans to account for his presence. Mitch could be gone. They could also make trades and thin out the coffers that way, but those sorts of deals would probably mean them shifting to even more of a “win now” mentality, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to working a late lottery pick into the rotation.
Assuming, at the very least, that they hold on to and plan on playing Barrett, Quickley, Toppin, Grimes, Reddish and Sims, that’s six rotation players, and we haven’t yet accounted for Fournier, Rose, Burks, Randle, whoever they’d get to start at center to replace Mitch, and whoever they bring in to assume the starting point guard duties1. That’s 12 guys.
You might assume that they could use their pick on one of the two centers who are likely to be available in the mid-to-late lotto, Jalen Duren of Memphis and Mark Williams of Duke, but do we really think Tom Thibodeau is going to let a rookie (or Jericho Sims) be the starting backbone of his defense?
Even if we assume they move two of the four aforementioned veterans plus find takers for Noel an Kemba, that’s still a full 10-man rotation before we account for the lottery pick. We already saw during the last draft that when it comes to first round picks, this front office would rather have a future asset, even one with uncertain value, than driving a car off the lot that they’re not fairly certain will get on the road immediately.
What will they trade the pick for? I’m assuming it’ll be part of a package that goes out along with one or two existing players on the roster in exchange for a starting point guard or center. I also think they could use it to grease the skids on a Randle trade and get a future pick back in the same deal.
There are, of course, several circumstances in which they don’t trade the pick:
They move up into the top four and no star trade is available.
They find a 2-for-1 trade in which Julius Randle and a young player (Cam Reddish would be my guess) go out and one player returns, and they deal Alec Burks for future draft equity in addition to dumping Kemba Walker and Nerlens Noel. That could theoretically leave room for RJ, IQ, Obi, Grimes, Fournier, Rose, Sims, the incoming player they just traded for, a starting center and the new draft pick2. Trading Randle would also theoretically signal that the organization is leaning further into a youth movement.
Duren or Williams absolutely blow them away in workouts.
There’s a situation similar to what occurred when Utah drafted Donovan Mitchell, and there’s a player in the late lotto they feel is too special to pass up (Bennedict Mathurin? Dyson Daniels?).
Julius stays, but Cam and Burks (or Fournier, I suppose) both get traded for future draft equity.
If you’re wondering why I don’t see a scenario where Julius is traded for draft equity and a bad contract of a player who wouldn’t enter the rotation, trust me, I’ve tried to find just such a trade. The closest I could come to one - Jules to Portland for Eric Bledsoe and a future pick - is a deal that a) I don’t think the Knicks would do and b) even if they did, I could see-
-Bledsoe getting some run here.
So that’s it for this prediction. Again, I hope I’m wrong, but if you’re asking me to place my chip on “NY keeps pick” or “NY trades pick,” it’s a pretty easy decision based on all the factors involved.
Check back tomorrow for the last two predictions: what the Knicks will do in free agency and on the trade market.
The Greatest Knick of All Time
With all due respect to the great Willis Reed, this was always going to come down to these two.
In trying to decide which player is the best of the last 75 years, with all of the history that this franchise has behind it, it has to be about more than the accolades and the numbers. We’ll get to the “more” part in a bit.
But first, those accolades…
11 All-Star Teams
7-time All-NBA (one 1st team selection, seven 2nd team selections)
3-time All-Defense (all 2nd team selections)
MVP votes in eight seasons (three 4th place finishes, three 5th place, one 8th place, one 11th place)
1985 Rookie of the Year
7 All-Star Teams
6-time All-NBA (four 1st team selections, two 2nd team selections)
7-time All-Defense (all 1st team selections)
MVP votes in six seasons (one 4th place finish, one 6th place, one 7th place, one 11th place, one 15th place and one 17th place)
1975 All-Star Game MVP
…and those numbers:
I saved total playoff points until last for a reason, and that’s to emphasize just how great of a chasm there is between Ewing and Frazier, and between Frazier and everyone else. Willis Reed is third in this category with 1358 points, then Starks with 1352, DeBusschere with 1340, Bradley with 1222, Oakley with 1218, and then Allan Houston in eighth with 1139. Those are the only Knicks with over 1000 postseason points.
Ewing’s Knicks total3 ranks 34th in NBA history while Frazier’s ranks 65th, but as we can see from their nearly identical postseason scoring average, that disparity is basically null and void when you consider how much the playoffs were expanded between Frazier’s and Ewing’s eras, which resulted in Ewing playing far more games
So if we’re to believe that winning matters above all, and a player’s performance when the lights are brightest is the thing that defines their career, shouldn’t Frazier get the nod on account of the dead even scoring average and his two titles to Patrick’s zero? Walt’s average rebounds + assists in the playoffs (13.6) also bests Ewing’s (12.5), as does his field goal percentage by a healthy margin (51.1 to 47.1). Considering the league-average field goal percentage was actually higher during Ewing’s era than the late 60’s/early 70’s and that Frazier was a guard - typically the less efficient position - that efficiency difference is stark.
Frazier could also do it in different ways. Need him to average 25 a game to win a playoff series? He did it twice. Eight rebounds? Three times. A dozen assists? Did that too. He remains the only man in NBA history to have at least 120 points, 70 assists and 50 rebounds in a single Finals that his team won. His career Finals field goal percentage of 53.7 percent is 14th highest all time4 and third best among point guards, trailing only John Paxson, who shot his 59.1 percent playing alongside Michael Jordan, and Chris Paul, whose 55.0 percent came in half as many games (and with zero titles).
Going through Frazier’s postseason game log is so jaw-dropping, it can leave you dizzy. It starts with his 36, 19 & 7 Game 7 stat line in 1970, which remains one of the great feats in league history, and arguably the greatest performance in a winner-take-all game the NBA has ever seen. But he came up huge in so many other big spots as well.
In Game 7 against Baltimore in the 1970 East Division Finals, he played 46 minutes, scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting, grabbed 10 boards and dished eight assists. The next year, after the Knicks surprisingly fell at home in Game 2 of their first round series against the Hawks, Frazier went into Atlanta and dropped 29, 11 & 9 to get things back on track. In 1972, with the Knicks facing the top seeded Celtics in the East Finals, Clyde set the tone with 36 points on 19 shots in Game 1 in Boston en route to a five-game romp. Even though they eventually lost in five games to the Lakers, Frazier averaged an absurd 23, 8 & 8 on 58.5 percent shooting in the ‘72 Finals. One year later, with another Finals birth on the line, Frazier played 47 of 48 minutes in Game 7, putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the Boston Garden…and it wasn’t even his best game of the series. Seven days earlier, Frazier played 57 of a possible 58 minutes, scored 37 points, grabbed nine boards and handed out four assists. In the ‘73 Finals, he was first on the team in assists, second in points and third in rebounds. The next year, with their first round series tied 2-2, Frazier scored a playoff career high 38 points in a one-point win over the Bullets yet again. Two weeks later, he’d match that total with another 38, again in Boston, with the Knicks down 0-2.
Not that Ewing didn’t have his fair share of bangers. Perhaps he’s best known for the game in which he ripped the decade-old monkey off his back and put up 24, 22 & 7 agains the Pacers in the ‘94 East Finals to elevate the Knicks to the championship round for the first time in two decades. He also had a big night in the deciding game of the previous round, scoring only 18 against Chicago but pulling down 17 big rebounds and dishing six assists. A year prior, on a night known for what Charles Smith couldn’t do, Patrick scored 33 on 23 shots in Game 5 vs Chicago, but also missed six free throws in a three-point loss. A few years later, in a game that gets completely forgotten because of the suspensions that marred the series, Ewing put up 37 & 17 in Miami in a Game 7 loss in the 1997 Eastern Semis. Pat averaged 24 & 11 that series, seven years after he averaged 31 & 11 in a first round upset of the Celtics. That’s an eight-year run of solid playoff performances.
But Ewing’s resume also has its fair share of duds. His three highest efficiency postseason series all came in the first round, whereas his performance often tailed off as the stakes got higher, never more so than on the biggest stage of his career. Ewing averaged 18.9 points and 12.4 rebounds in the 1994 Finals but shot just 36.3 percent from the field and had 22 turnovers - second highest in any series of his career5. Even worse, Hakeem Olajuwon dominated. The next year, the Knicks’ season ended with Ewing’s notorious missed finger roll in Game 7 against Indiana, a series in which he failed to average 20 points or 10 rebounds. He wasn’t fully healthy in 1998, so his 14 points per game on 35.7 percent shooting against the Pacers in those East Semis can be excused, as can his performance in ‘99, when he was working his way back to full health again and averaged just 13 points on 42.9 percent across 11 playoff games. His last hurrah came in 2000, but after winning one final battle with Miami in the semis, he could only play in four of the six games against Indiana. New York lost all four games he suited up.
Here’s where it must be emphasized: Frazier never had to do the amount of heavy lifting that Ewing did. From 1969 to 1974, Clyde (barely) finished second to Jerry West in total postseason points, but DeBusschere finished 6th, Bradley 9th, Reed 10th and Dick Barnett 16th. From 1990 to 1998, Ewing ranked 6th in playoff points6, but the only other Knicks to appear in the top 35 are Starks (who wasn’t there for the ‘90 postseason) in 18th and Charles Oakley in 24th.
The utter dominance of Frazier’s Knicks obviously had a lot to do with so many of those guys appearing on that list, but again, it was the team that was dominant. Frazier was arguably the most important cog in the machine, but he was a cog, and it was a machine - maybe the well-oiled machine in the history of basketball. Ewing had a solid infrastructure around him, but when push came to shove, it was either him or John Starks there to take the big shot until Allan Houston arrived in the summer of 1996, and we don’t have to go through Starks’ inconsistency in the big moment.
It’s impossible to know how much that level of pressure weighed on Ewing year after painful year, but there’s no way it didn’t, at least a little bit. Frazier? He could look to literally any other spot on the court and see a future Hall-of-Famer standing there, waiting to receive a pass, set a pick, make a cut, and generally take the load off his shoulders. Reed, DeBusschere, Bradley, Monroe…even someone like Jerry Lucas later in his career and Walt Bellamy for his first taste of the postseason. In essence, Frazier got to be ‘00-’02 Kobe for the first half of New York’s run. Willis Reed was the literal MVP of the league. Who better to instill a young point guard with confidence?
This is a truly impossible choice. Part of me says it should be Frazier, if only because his combination of defense, size, shooting, smarts, and performance in the clutch would translate to any team in any era. He’s the rare superstar who could be the best player in a Finals Game 7 on one night but was able (and willing) to shift over to a complementary role the next. That level of unselfishness had to be of massive importance towards fostering perhaps the most beautiful basketball that has ever been played.
And we haven’t even talked about how much he completely captivated this town, both on and off the court. I wasn’t around for Clyde, so I can’t speak to what it felt like in the city during that time, but I’ve read and heard enough to know it was electric. They were the show in town. I remember the late 90’s Yankees well, and I can only guess that those Knicks had a similar impact.
But like anything with sky high heights, the show came to an end too soon. Frazier’s individual run in New York lasted a decade, but his rookie season was modest by his standards and the team was barely a .500 club. Their dominance occurred over the next six seasons, and then it was over. The Knicks were a middling, slightly under-.500 team in Frazier’s final three seasons here, and while he still had great individual success in making two more All-Star teams and a final All-NBA squad, their days of relevance were gone. Even so, Frazier’s peak was so impressive that he would be a worthy number one on this list.
He’s just not my number one.
When Patrick Ewing became a Knick, I had just recently said my first words, and by the time he left, I was driving. For that entire time, he carried the hopes of a franchise and a city on his big, broad shoulders. He arrived with greater expectations than any NBA rookie since Kareem 16 years earlier, and was compared to Bill Russell before he ever played a professional game. A decade and a half later, I can still remember watching Game 7 of the 2000 East Semis against Miami in a friend’s girlfriend’s basement, thinking the entire time, “Bring us home Pat…bring us home.”
And he did.
Regardless of whether he ultimately lived up to his promise, we never stopped believing he would take us to the promised land. For 15 years, if he was there, it felt like we had a chance. No other New York athlete in my lifetime and maybe ever has had to live with those kind of expectations for as long as he did with as little help as he had. And he never gave up the fight.
And that’s why, in the eyes of this author at least, Patrick Ewing is indeed the greatest Knick of all time, with Walt Clyde Frazier finishing as a worthy runner up. It’s been a long journey to get to this point, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It has helped me realize that for as much as the Knicks haven’t always been the most successful franchise over their 75 years, they have been home to some of the most indelible and unique figures in league history.
Even through the tough times, we have them to thank for keeping us coming back for more. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m not even listing Kemba or Noel here, both of whom I’m assuming will be gone, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Nerlens is still with the team when camp opens. I’ll explore the Knicks’ roster glut more here later in the week.
It’s also possible the incoming piece in the Randle trade is a starting center, in which case maybe they keep Burks.
He scored 26 points for the Magic in the 2002 Eastern Conference first round.
Minimum 50 made field goals.
He had 27 in the ‘94 East Finals
Behind MJ, Malone, Pippen, Hakeem, and Drexler