New York Knicks: Ranking the 10 Greatest Players in Knicks History

Paul KnepperContributor IIIAugust 17, 2012

New York Knicks: Ranking the 10 Greatest Players in Knicks History

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    The New York Knicks have a long and storied history, which includes eight conference titles, two NBA Championships and scores of great players. They've retired nine numbers, had a regular season MVP, two NBA Finals MVPs, several all-stars and numerous Hall of Famers.

    It is always difficult to compare players from different generations because the rules, talent level, style and quality of play changes over time. There are many factors to consider when ranking the greatest players in the Knicks' history, including individual statistics, team success, the quality of their teammates, their longevity, the era in which they played and the level of competition.

    Here are the 10 greatest Knicks of all-time.

Honorable Mentions

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    Guards Carl Braun, Richie Guerin and Dick McGuire were the best players in the early years of the franchise, and while each earned several All-Star nods, they faced much less competition during an era in which there were typically eight to 10 teams in the league.

    Braun, who played for the Knicks from 1947-1950, and again from 1952-1961, led the team in scoring during his first seven seasons and was a five-time All-Star.

    McGuire was also named to five All-Star teams during his eight seasons with the Knicks from 1949-1957. He and his brother Al are the only brothers in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Guerin played for the Knicks from 1956-1963 and was named to the All-NBA Second Team three times (1959, 1960 and 1962) during that span. The Bronx-native averaged a career-high 29.5 points per game during the 1961-1962 season.

    Dick Barnett is the forgotten member of the Knicks' championship teams. He was the team's starting shooting guard for most of his nine seasons in New York. Barnett was named an All-Star in 1968 and his number 12 hangs in the rafters at the Garden.

    Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have been spectacular at times for the Knicks over the past two seasons, but they have not been in New York long enough to be considered among the top-10 players in the history of the franchise. Both should crack this list in the next few years.

    Similarly, hall of famer Bob McAdoo put up sensational numbers during his short stint with the Knicks, averaging 26.7 points per game during his two-and-half seasons with the team from 1976-1979.

10. Allan Houston

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    Through no fault of his own, Allan Houston became the poster child for overpaid NBA players after signing a $100 million contract with the Knicks in 2001. The one-time Detroit Piston had nine very productive seasons in New York.

    He had one of the sweetest strokes in the game and was deadly from behind the arc, connecting on 40 percent of his three-point attempts for his career. The two-time All-Star averaged a career-high 22.5 points per game for the Knicks during the 2002-2003 season.

    Houston's greatest moment as a Knick came during Game 5 of the Knicks-Heat first-round playoff series in 1999. With the Knicks trailing by one in the closing seconds of the game, Houston received the inbound pass, took a couple dribbles towards the basket and pulled up for a ten-foot floater.

    The ball hit the front rim, then the backboard, before falling through the basket with .8 seconds remaining. The Knicks won the game 78-77, becoming just the second eighth seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

9. Charles Oakley

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    Charles Oakley's hustle and toughness quickly won over the Madison Square Garden faithful after he was traded to the Knicks for Bill Cartwright prior to the 1987-1988 season.

    "Oak" was vertically challenged, but he developed a soft touch from 15-18 feet and got by on determination and a high basketball IQ (His former coach Jeff Van Gundy recently referred to him as a "basketball genius.") He did the dirty work down low, freeing up Patrick Ewing to score.

    Oak was an excellent help defender, and his physical style of play personified a gritty Knicks team that was always a threat in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks' power forward was selected to his lone All-Star Game in 1994, the year the Knicks came within one game of winning the NBA Championship.

    He averaged a double-double—10.4 points and 10 rebounds—over his Knicks career and New York advanced to the playoffs in each of his 10 seasons with the team. 

8. Bill Bradley

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    After a stellar collegiate career at Princeton, Bill Bradley sacrificed his individual statistics for the benefit of the team and was rewarded with two NBA championships during his ten-year NBA career.

    "Dollar" Bill fit perfectly into Coach Red Holzman's ball-sharing system. He loved to move without the ball, always made the right pass and could not be left open from the wing or the elbow.

    The Knicks' small forward had his best season in 1972-1973, when the Knicks won their second championship, averaging career highs in points (16.1), assists (4.5) and free-throw percentage (87 percent).

    Bradley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1983 and his No. 24 hangs from the rafters of "the World's Most Famous Arena."

7. Harry Gallatin

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    Harry "the Horse" Gallatin played for the Knicks from 1948-1957, most of which was prior to the shot clock era, though he still managed to average an impressive 13 points and 11.9 rebounds per game for his career.

    Despite being an undersized center at 6'6'' and 215 pounds, Gallatin led the league in rebounding in 1953-1954 with 15.3 boards per game and grabbed 33 rebounds in a game against the Detroit Pistons in 1953—a Knicks record which still stands today.

    "The Horse" was selected to seven All-Star teams and was named to the All-NBA First Team in 1954 and All-NBA Second Team in 1955. He went on to coach the Knicks for a season and is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

6. Bernard King

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    Bernard King could flat out score. The 6'7'' forward got out on the break, had a lightning-quick release on his jump-shot, possessed a devastating first step and displayed a dizzying array of face-up and post moves.

    Unfortunately, Bernard was only the King of New York for three seasons, but he put on quite a show before he was derailed in the prime of his career by a torn ACL in his right knee.

    King led the league in scoring in 1984-1985 with 32.9 points per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field, and earned All-NBA First Team honors in 1984 and 1985.

    The Knicks' small forward scored 50 points in consecutive games in January of 1984, including a 20-for-23 shooting performance against the San Antonio Spurs on January 30th. On Christmas Day of the following season, he racked up 40 points in the first half against the New Jersey Nets and ended up with 60 for the game.

5. Earl Monroe

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    Earl "The Pearl" Monroe was a master of improvisation on the hardwood. His dazzling ball-handling and spectacular spin moves earned him the moniker "Black Jesus" on the playgrounds of Philadelphia.

    Many people wondered if he could coexist with another flashy ball-handler, Walt "Clyde" Frazier, when he joined the Knicks in 1971 after four-plus seasons with the Bullets. Monroe had no problem sharing the ball with his teammates and "Pearl" and "Clyde" quickly became the most sensational backcourt in the game.

    During his nine seasons with the Knicks, Monroe made two All-Star appearances, averaged over 20 points per game twice and was a key component of the Knicks 1973 championship team.

    The Knicks retired his No. 15 in 1986, and he was later named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.

4. Dave DeBusschere

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    Dave DeBusschere's greatness is often lost in New York Knicks lore behind the likes of Walt Frazier and Willis Reed. The power forward was the missing piece to the Knicks' championship puzzle and the team soared after acquiring him from the Pistons during the 1968-1969 season.

    DeBusschere was a rugged rebounder—averaging 11 boards per game for his career—and a tenacious defender. Once the NBA began naming an All-Defensive Team in the 1969 season, the Knicks' power forward was selected to the team every season for the rest of his career—six in total.

    He had three-point range before there was a three-point line, was named an All-Star eight times and was an invaluable member of the 1970 and 1973 championship teams.

    In the biggest game of his career—Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals—DeBusschere contributed 18 points and 17 rebounds in the Knicks blowout victory over the Lakers.

3. Willis Reed

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    The great Knicks teams of the late 1960's and 1970's took their cue from the man they referred to simply as "Captain." Willis Reed was undersized for the center position at 6'9'', but that did not stop him from battling the giants of the game like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a nightly basis.

    The shining moment of his career came in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. After sitting out Game 6 with a torn thigh muscle, Reed limped onto the Madison Square Garden court to a standing ovation moments before Game 7, inspiring the Knicks to a blowout victory over the Lakers for their first NBA Championship.

    "The Captain" was named NBA Finals MVP for that series, and once again, the Knicks beat the Lakers for the championship in 1973. He was also named the MVP for the 1969-1970 season and was selected to seven All-Star games.

    An argument could made that Reed is the greatest Knick of all-time, but his short career works against him. Injuries limited him to just 10 seasons in the NBA—all with the Knicks—and he was only healthy for only seven of them.

2. Walt Frazier

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    The man they called "Clyde" was the quintessence of cool, on and off the court, and always wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

    Walt Frazier delivered one of greatest Game 7 performances in NBA history in the 1970 NBA Finals, pacing the Knicks to their first NBA championship with 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds and five steals.

    Frazier excelled in all facets of the game during his 10 seasons in New York, though his forte was defense. Willis Reed said that Clyde's hands were so quick that he could steal the hubcaps off a moving car. The Knicks point guard was named to the NBA All-Defense First Team seven consecutive times. 

    Clyde had a knack for backing down his defender to get the shot he wanted and averaged over 20 points per game six times, despite having to share the ball with Monroe, Bradley, Reed and DeBusschere. He remains the Knicks' all-time assists leader and was an excellent rebounder for a guard, grabbing 5.9 boards per game for his career.

1. Patrick Ewing

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    It is a tight three-way contest between Reed, Frazier and Ewing for the title of "Greatest Knick of All-Time," but ultimately, Ewing wins out due to his longevity. Ewing's All-Star appearances as a Knick (11) exceeded the number  of seasons Frazier and Reed spent in a Knick uniform (10 each).

    He was the centerpiece of the Knicks franchise for the better part of 15 seasons and the team went to the playoffs in 13 of them, including trips to the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999. Ewing was an excellent jump-shooter and anchored a stifling Knicks defense under Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy.

    Sure, he fell short of his goal of bringing an NBA championship to New York, but the big man never had the privilege of playing with one Hall of Famer, never mind several like Reed and Frazier did.

    Ewing is just one of 16 players to have compiled 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds and is the Knicks all-time leader is many statistical categories, including minutes, points, rebounds, blocked shots and steals.