With Draft night just days away, optimism is high for Knicks fans eagerly hoping this year’s pick will mark an impressive start to the Leon Rose era.
The eighth-overall pick is often a crapshoot, but despite onlookers dismissing New York’s recent Draft performances, the franchise is rich with deft selections that outsmarted other teams. Here are five of the best Knicks draft hits of all-time:
(Note that Patrick Ewing isn’t on this list despite being the best Knicks draft pick of all-time, as this is weighing later-pick steals heavier than more obvious selections.)
Richie Guerin, 1954, 2nd round 17th overall pick
Guerin’s selection would mark the end of the lottery in today’s times, but in ‘54 it was the second-to-last pick in the second round. New York’s first-round selection, Jack Turner, played just one season in the league. Guerin played seven years for the Knicks on the other hand, racking up six All-Star appearances and averaging over 20 points per game during the later stretch of that tenure. He was one of only eight All-Stars to come out of this draft, with just two coming after his pick. Most of the players drafted ahead of him didn’t see a second of playing time. As far as getting bang for your buck in the draft, the Knicks have arguably never done better than this Iona grad.
Mark Jackson, 1987, 1st round 18th overall pick
Fun fact: seven members of the 1987 draft class went on to become All-Stars, and Jackson was the latest-picked of this group. He also won Rookie of the Year for the Knicks, and for a five-year stint consistently brought leadership, defense and playmaking to the Garden that has been matched by few New York point guards since. Nobody selected after him sniffed his productivity sans Ken Norman and Reggie Lewis, and many flamed out early in their careers or didn’t even record a minute of playing time.
Kristaps Porzingis, 2015, 1st round 4th pick
As sad as it is to say, the Knicks traded one of their savviest draft picks ever just three years into his career. Probably the lone highlight of Phil Jackson’s tenure, drafting Porzingis looked like a high-risk, high-reward play at the time. He was the mystery man out of Europe with legendary measurements and workout videos against chairs, booed by New York faithful when he was picked (then, you know, later) but blossomed into an All-Star level player before his 25th birthday. The kicker is who went off the board immediately after him: Mario Hezonja, Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson and Frank Kaminsky. Save for Devin Booker later in the round, the Knicks pulled a coup.
Walt Frazier, 1967, 1st round 5th overall pick
Should being a cultural icon and franchise elder for decades beyond your hoops career count towards this list? Probably not, but Clyde’s exploits on the court are case enough. There isn’t a single player drafted after Frazier (or even before arguably) that met his level of production, which of course helped the Knicks win their lone two championships in 1970 and 1973. Frazier played 10 seasons for New York, is undoubtedly the franchise’s greatest point guard ever and second-most recognizable talent behind Ewing. All that with the fifth pick in the Draft!
Willis Reed, 1964 1st round 8th overall pick
Speaking of Knicks championships, they don’t win them without the Captain. Ironically, the Knicks selected Jim Barnes with their first pick in the draft, six prior to Reed. Obviously, the latter paid more dividends, playing 10 seasons for the Knicks as their man in the middle, averaging 20-and-10 along the way. There were a number of valid selections that went after Reed - Paul Silas and Jerry Sloan among them - but with anybody but Reed you have to expect New York to fall short against the Wilt Chamerlains of the era.
Honorable mentions go out to Trevor Ariza, picked 43rd overall in 2004 and went on to have a long, illustrious career as a 3-and-D wing, and Mitchell Robinson, picked 36th overall in 2018 and is on his way to becoming an All-Star, and maybe more.