At first, it seemed like a no-brainer.
Who had the greatest rookie season in Knicks history?
Easy. Uncontested dunk easy: Patrick Ewing.
And then I did the one thing my wife and kids have warned me about for years: I started thinking.
Ewing won Rookie of the Year in 1986 and became the face of the franchise. No brainer as we said.
But statistically, Ewing didn’t have the best rookie season.
Bill Cartwright scored more points than Ewing.
Willis Reed was a rock who would go on to lead the Knicks to their two NBA titles.
Art Heyman scored more points in his rookie year than Walt Frazier.
So, we had to find a way to go beyond the stats, the titles, the honors and evaluate many of the sensational Knicks’ rookies in an all-encompassing manner.
We considered all of those factors but also looked at where the rookie was chosen. Did he get the Knicks to the playoffs or lay a foundation for postseason appearances?
We poured all that into a blender – and pressed pause when we had this tantalizing thought:
What if the Knicks find a gem with the 9th pick in this year’s draft that implores us to rewrite this list a year from now? Wow.
That’s the beauty of the draft – in one night a franchise’s fortunes can change – good or bad – for years.
For now, let’s look back.
Landry Fields – The Stanford product scored 797 points, grabbed 521 rebounds, had 155 assists, 80 steals and 17 blocked shots; not bad for a second-round pick in 2010.
Ray Williams – The 10th pick out of Minnesota in 1977 didn’t make All-Rookie, but he had 756 points, 363 assists, 209 rebounds and 108 steals. He bloomed in his 2nd and 3rd seasons.
Gerald Wilkins – He wasn’t the second coming of older brother Dominque, but he was a fan favorite because of his athleticism and smile. He scored 1013 points on 47-percent shooting as Ewing’s wingman. Pretty impressive production from the 47th pick in the 1985 Draft.
Lonnie Shelton – The 25th pick out of Oregon State in 1976 was, well, something of a steal. Certainly, you don’t expect to get 955 points, 633 rebounds, 149 assists, 125 steals and just 2 blocked shots short of 100 rejections from a player picked that low in the draft.
Jim Barnes – The Knicks’ No.1 pick in 1964 scored 1,159 points and grabbed 729 rebounds. Those are outstanding numbers. But Barnes, who also was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, didn’t have as big an impact as Reed, the 8th pick.
5. Walt Frazier – Frazier did gain All-Rookie honors and he has retired the title of ‘Coolest Knick Ever!’ If steals were kept in the 1967-68 season Clyde would be higher. The Knicks made the playoffs as Frazier, the 5th pick out of Southern Illinois scored 666 points, grabbed 313 rebounds and had 305 assists. When Reed could only play 27 minutes in Game 7 against the Lakers in 1970, Frazier turned in a masterpiece – 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds!
4. Bill Cartwright – Amazing numbers: He set and still owns the franchise rookie record with 1,781 points and added 726 rebounds. If not for a guy named Larry Bird, who won Rookie of the Year, and Magic Johnson, who could have, Cartwright might have won ROY. The No. 3 overall pick in the 1979 Draft, Cartwright couldn’t get the Knicks to the playoffs.
3. Patrick Ewing – Coming out of Georgetown as one of the most dominant college players of all time, the Knicks won the draft lottery and selected Ewing with the No.1 overall pick in 1985. He averaged 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 2 assists per game. But the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs, which slightly offset his Rookie of the Year honor. Yes, we’re splitting hairs.
2. Mark Jackson – The former St. John’s star was — please sit — the 18th player taken in the 1987 draft. 18th! Mugsy Bogues, the 5-3 shake-and-Wake star, was taken before Jackson, at point guard. Guess who won Rookie of the Year? Not David Robinson. Not Scottie Pippen. Not Bogues. Jackson. He was the confident extrovert to Ewing’s driven introvert. Jackson helped the Knicks to five straight playoff appearances.
1. Willis Reed – Captain, oh Captain! Technically Reed was a second-round pick in 1964 — 8th overall — which only propels him in our eyes. He averaged 19.5 points, 14.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Reed was the heart and soul of the franchise’s two NBA titles. There are moments in sports etched into every fan’s mind – Dwight Clark’s catch in the 1981 NFC title game, Derek Jeter’s backhand flip in the 2001 ALDS, Reed hobbling out of the tunnel in the Garden before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, in which the Knicks beat the Lakers.
It should come as no surprise that NBA teams spend millions of dollars evaluating talent. Is there a player with the flair of Frazier, the determination of Reed, the confidence of Jackson, the professionalism of Ewing?
Will the Knicks find him on the night of June 21? Stay tuned!