New York Knicks: Ranking the Best Players by Position in Team History

The New York Knicks are one of just three franchises remaining from the founding of the Basketball Association of America in 1946, along with the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, who were originally based in Philadelphia. The BAA would merge with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the present-day NBA.

The Knicks were a success almost immediately, to some degree, making the playoffs in each of the franchise’s first 10 seasons and reaching the NBA Finals three straight years from 1951-53, although they lost to the Rochester Royals in 1951 and the Minneapolis Lakers in 1952 and 1953.

It would be 17 years, however, before the Knicks returned to the Finals. From 1957-66, New York reached the postseason just once. The Knicks began a run of nine straight playoff seasons in 1967 and won the franchise’s elusive first title in 1970 by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in an iconic seven-game series perhaps best known for Willis Reed’s heroic limp onto the court for Game 7 despite torn thigh muscle.

New York returned to the Finals in 1972, this time losing to the Lakers, but avenged that defeat by taking down Los Angeles in five games to win its second title in 1973.

The team wouldn’t return to the Finals until 1994, when the Knicks lost a seventh game to the Houston Rockets, and their most recent trip to the NBA Finals was in 1999, a five-game loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

The Knicks did have another long run of sustained success, reaching the playoffs every year from 1988-2001, but much of that period was spent battling Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. From 2002-10, the Knicks made the postseason just once, but have qualified each of the last three seasons and in 2012-13, New York won a series for the first time since 2000.

In all, the Knicks have made the playoffs in 42 of their 67 seasons, but is just one game better than .500—2,615-2,614—in their history. Twice the Knicks have won 60 games, turning the trick in their championship season of 1969-70 and again in 1992-93, when they lost to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. While New York has never endured a 60-loss season, it has lost 59 games four times, posting the worst winning percentage in team history in 1962-63 when the Knicks were 21-59. They were 23-59 in 1985-86, 2005-06 and 2007-08.

So who are the best players by position in the history of the New York Knicks?

NOTE: Players must have appeared in 250 regular-season games with the franchise to be considered for this list.

Small Forward: Willie Naulls (1956-62)

Willie Naulls-Best of New York Knicks

Willie Naulls, shown on a 1957 Topps card, was a four-time All-Star after coming to the Knicks in a trade with the St. Louis Hawks as a rookie.

Willie Naulls was acquired in a trade early in his rookie season and was a star during a tough period for the franchise. Naulls came over from the St. Louis Hawks in December 1956 for guard Slater Martin and emerged in his second season.

Naulls was a four-time All-Star for the Knicks, averaging 19.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in parts of seven seasons.

Naulls is the fifth-leading rebounder in franchise history with 5,015. His 11.7 rebounds per game is fifth and his 19.3 points per game ranks seventh.

In December 1962, Naulls was traded with Kenny Sears to the San Francisco Warriors for Tom Gola. He also played for the Boston Celtics, retiring in 1966 after playing for three championship teams in Boston.

Apologies to: Latrell Sprewell, Bill Bradley, Cazzie Russell, Louis Orr.

Harry Gallatin-Best of New York Knicks

Harry Gallatin (11) was selected for seven All-Star appearances in his nine seasons as a New York Knick. (Photo courtesy Southern Illinois University archives)

Power Forward: Harry Gallatin (1948-57)

Harry Gallatin was selected 40th overall by the Knicks in the 1948 BAA Draft out of tiny Truman State in Missouri, but developed into one of the franchise’s first stars.

Gallatin was a seven-time All-Star for New York and made two All-NBA teams, including the first team in 1953-54. He also led the NBA in rebounding that season with 15.2 per game.

In nine years with the Knicks, Gallatin averaged 12.7 points and 12.1 rebounds per game and helped the team to three straight NBA Finals from 1951-53.

He is the fourth-leading rebounder in team history with 5,935 and is ninth with 610 games played. His 12.1 rebounds per game average is third-best for the Knicks and his 21.7 player efficiency rating is fourth in franchise history.

The Knicks traded Gallatin along with Dick Atha and Nathaniel Clifton to the Fort Wayne Pistons for Mel Hutchins and Charlie Tyra in April 1957 and Gallatin played one season for the Pistons, who moved to Detroit for the 1957-58 season, before retiring to become the head coach at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He went on to coach the St. Louis Hawks and the Knicks and was the NBA Coach of the Year for St. Louis in 1962-63. After leaving the Knicks as coach in 1966, Gallatin became the first athletic director and basketball coach at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in 1967 and remained athletic director there until he retired in 1992, coaching the team for three seasons. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.

Apologies to: Kenny Sears, Dave DeBusschere, Kurt Thomas, Nathaniel Clifton.

Center: Patrick Ewing (1985-2000)

Patrick Ewing-Best of New York Knicks

Patrick Ewing, shown on a 1986 Fleer card, was the first overall pick by the Knicks in 1985 and went on to become the franchise’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocked shots and steals.

Patrick Ewing was the prize in the first-ever NBA Draft Lottery in 1985 and it was the Knicks that struck the jackpot, winning the top pick and drafting the former Georgetown star first overall.

They never regretted the choice. Ewing was an 11-time All-Star and was named Rookie of the Year despite missing 32 games in 1985-86 with a knee injury. He was also a seven-time All-NBA pick, making the first team in 1989-90, and was named to three All-Defensive teams. Ewing posted the best defensive rating in the NBA in both 1992-93 and 1993-94 and led the league in defensive win shares in both of those seasons, as well as in 1996-97.

In 15 seasons with New York, Ewing averaged 22.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor. He was the key cog to the team’s run to the 1994 NBA Finals, but was unable to play in the 1999 Finals because of an Achilles tendon injury.

Ewing is the Knicks’ career leader with 23,665 points, 10,759 rebounds, 2,758 blocked shots, 1,061 steals and 1,039 games. His 2.7 blocked shots per game average is also best in team history while his 22.8 points per game average is fourth and his 10.4 rebounds per game ranks seventh.

Ewing holds team single-season records with 2,347 points, 327 blocked shots, 4.0 blocks per game and a 25.8 PER in 1989-90 and with 789 defensive rebounds and 8.1 defensive win shares in 1992-93. Incredibly, the top 10 single seasons in terms of blocked shots and blocks per game are all held by Ewing.

Here are some of Ewing’s career highlights:

In September 2000, the Knicks parted ways with Ewing, sending him to the Seattle SuperSonics as part of a four-team trade that brought Travis Knight, Glen Rice and a 2001 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers, Luc Longley from the Phoenix Suns and Vernon Maxwell, Vladimir Stepania, two 2001 second-round picks and a 2002 first-rounder from Seattle. He also played with the Orlando Magic before retiring from the NBA in September 2002. He is currently an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats and has also been an assistant for the Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets and the Magic. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Apologies to: David Lee, Walt Bellamy, Willis Reed, Bill Cartwright.

Shooting Guard: Richie Guerin (1954-63)

Richie Guerin-Best of New York Knicks

Richie Guerin, shown on a 1961 Fleer card, is one of six New York Knicks to score more than 10,000 points.

The Knicks drafted Richie Guerin out of Iona in the second round of the 1954 NBA Draft and the Bronx native didn’t disappoint.

Guerin was a six-time All-Star in New York and was named to three All-NBA teams.

In parts of eight seasons for the Knicks, Guerin averaged 20.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

He is fifth in team history with 2,725 assists and is also sixth with 10,392 points. His 20.1 points per game average is sixth-best. He is also the team single-season record-holder with 1,897 field-goal attempts, 625 free throws and 762 free-throw attempts in 1961-62

Guerin was the subject of this short documentary:

Guerin was dealt to the St. Louis Hawks in October 1963 for cash and a 1964 second-round pick. He went on to coach the Hawks in both St. Louis and Atlanta, earning Coach of the Year honors in 1967-68, and later was a broadcaster for Knicks games and spent 31 years as a broker and later as managing director for Bear, Stearns and Co., before retiring in 2005. He will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this September.

Apologies to: Micheal Ray Richardson, Earl Monroe, Jamal Crawford, Allan Houston.

Point Guard: Walt Frazier (1967-77)

Walt Frazier-Best of New York Knicks

Walt Frazier was picked fifth overall by the Knicks in 1967 and went on to be the floor leader for New York’s two championship teams in 1970 and 1973.

The Knicks selected “Clyde” with the fifth overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft out of Southern Illinois and Frazier went on to be the floor leader for a pair of championship teams in New York.

Frazier was a seven-time All-Star with the Knicks and was named to six All-NBA teams, including four first-team bids, and seven All-Defensive teams. He was also the MVP of the 1975 All-Star Game played at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

In 10 seasons with the Knicks, Frazier averaged 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists and averaged two steals a game after the league added them as an official statistic in 1973-74.

Frazier is New York’s all-time leader with 4,791 assists and is second with 14,617 points and eighth with 4,598 rebounds. Remarkably, despite only playing four seasons with the team when the stat was kept, he is 10th on the team’s all-time steals list with 589. His 2.0 steals per game average is second in team history while he is sixth with 6.3 assists per game and eighth in scoring at 19.3 points per game.

His 43.2 minutes per game average and 15.6 win shares in 1970-71 are team single-season records.

Here are some highlights of Frazier’s 36-point, 19-assist effort against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals:

Frazier was sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers in October 1977 as compensation for New York signing veteran free agent Jim Cleamons and he retired after he was waived by the Cavaliers in October 1979. He has been part of the Knicks’ television broadcast team since 1997 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.

Apologies to: Stephon Marbury, Ray Williams, Mark Jackson, Carl Braun.

Tags: Best Knicks Best New York Knicks Harry Gallatin NBA New York Knicks Patrick Ewing Richie Guerin Walt Frazier Willie Naulls

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