Willis Reed vs. Patrick Ewing: Who Is The Knicks Greatest Center?

willis & patrick

Willis Reed vs. Patrick Ewing: Who Is The Knicks Greatest Center?

By Neil Beldock

There is no question who the greatest Knicks’ centers of all-time are. The question is who actually wears the crown as “The Greatest” (with apologies to Muhammad Ali). Is it Willis Reed or Patrick Ewing?

To address this question I am going to present the case for each player from both an objective and subjective standpoint.

To attack this task I set up a value-based analytic system awarding points on a pro-rated basis for major performance oriented categories. At the bottom you will find the answer to “Who The Knicks Greatest Center Truly Is”.

Scoring = 10 Points:

For this category what I did was look at each players scoring average for their career and awarded points on a pro-rata basis. Willis averaged 18.7 points per game, and Patrick averaged 21.0 points per game.

So Patrick’s career average is 12.3% greater that Willis’s, so of the 10 points available, Patrick gets 12.3% more, or 1.23 more points of the 10 available points then Willis. This equates to Patrick receiving 6.23 points to Willis’s 3.77 points.

Cumulative Score: Patrick – 6.23……Willis – 3.77

Rebounding = 10 Points:

Patrick’s career rebounding average is 9.8 rebounds per game, while Willis’s is 12.9 rebounds per game.

So Willis’s career average is 31.63% greater than Patrick’s, or 3.10 more points. This equates to Willis receiving 6.9 points and Patrick receiving 3.1 points.

Cumulative Score (scoring + rebounding): Willis – 10.67…….. Patrick – 9.33

Assists = 10 Points:

This category is pretty much a push. Patrick averaged 1.9 assists per game and Willis averaged 1.8 assists per game. So I am awarding Patrick 5.1 points and Willis 4.9 points for this category.

Cumulative Score: Willis – 15.57 ………. Patrick – 14.43 

Defense = 10 Points:

This category is completely subjective as there are no “per game averages” to use. I could have used blocked-shots as part of the determinant factor(s) but blocked-shots were not tallied when Willis played until his final season. And if they were, I would have had that as a separate category.

So my thought process centers around the fact that both Willis and Patrick were the back-bones of excellent defensive teams, and both were excellent defenders.

Having watched both play I’m going to give Willis a slight edge when it comes to man-to-man defense and I’m giving Patrick a slight edge in blocked shots. Patrick averaged 2.4 blocks per game. If memory serves me at all, I don’t think Willis averaged that many….maybe 1.8-2.0……

As far as players who helped-out on defense, it’s a push from my perspective; Both were excellent help-defenders.

One objective measurement which could be used is the number of times each player was named to the All-NBA Defensive team. Willis received that honor once, or 10% of his career, while Patrick received that honor 3 times, or 17.65% of his career. So Patrick does get a bump here.

So when considering all factors, I’m going to give Patrick the edge here and subjectively award him 6 points to Willis’s 4 points.

Cumulative Score:  Patrick – 20.43 ……….. Willis –  19.57

Leadership = 10 Points:

This is also a category which is highly subjective. I am however, using one objective measurement as part of this analysis.

Both Willis and Patrick were clearly the leaders of their teams. So I am going to look at how many times, as a percentage of their careers, each went to the playoffs and use that to disperse 5 of the 10 points.

Willis went to the playoffs in 7 of his 10 seasons, so 70% of his career. Patrick went to the playoffs in 13 of his 15 seasons with the Knicks, or 86.67%.

So Patrick went to the playoffs 23.81% more than Willis. This results in Patrick receiving 3.38 points and Wills receiving 1.62 points of the first 5 points awarded.

The second 5 points are purely subjective and based upon my personal observations. Both players were great leaders in different ways, but Willis was truly unique as a leader.

Many may say that the greatest team-leader to ever play for the home team at Madison Square Garden was Mark Messier for the Rangers. And Messier certainly was a great, great leader.

But I’m here to say that Willis was every bit the leader that Messier was (both being tremendous), and as great a leader as there ever was in any sport.

So I am going to subjectively award Willis 3.5 points of the remaining 5 points, leaving 1.5 for Patrick. Total points for this category wind up being Willis with 5.12 points and Patrick 4.88 points.

Cumulative Score: Patrick – 25.31 ………. Willis – 24.69

League MVP Awards = 5 Points:

Willis was awarded the regular season MVP award once and was a 2-time playoffs MVP. Patrick was never an MVP.  So in this category Willis gets all 5 points.

Cumulative Score: Willis – 29.69 ……… Patrick 25.31

All-NBA = 5 Points:

Willis was selected All-NBA 5 times in his 10 year career, or 50% of the time. Patrick was All-NBA 7 times in his 17 year career, or 41.12% of his time. So Willis was selected All-NBA 21.59% more often through his career. So Willis is awarded 21.59% more points than Patrick which equates to 3.58 of the 5 points being awarded to Willis with Patrick getting 1.42 points.

Cumulative Score: Willis – 33.27 ……… Patrick – 26.73

Longevity = 10 Points:

As stated above, Patrick played 17 seasons (15 with the Knicks) while Willis played 10 seasons, all with the Knicks. This is a key category. It says a lot if you have your star player playing many years for the team. In this case, Patrick played 50% more with the Knicks than Willis did which results in Patrick being awarded 7.5 points and Willis receiving 2.5 points.

Cumulative Score: Willis – 35.77 ……… Patrick – 34.23

Intangibles = 10 Points:

Once again we are looking at a 100% subjective analysis although I will try to support how I am awarding points in this category.

Both certainly brought positive intangibles to their teams, perhaps none more than what Willis did in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers, ultimately leading the Knicks to their first-ever NBA Championship.

But Patrick gets the edge here fairly substantially.

Patrick was THE college player going into the NBA draft. The Knicks had been struggling to find success after the Willis Reed years. So getting Patrick Ewing uplifted the entire fan base and organization like few draft picks ever had.

Willis was an early piece in a developing team, but not viewed as the savior that Patrick was viewed as.

The intangible factors accompanying Patrick’s arrival are probably only paralleled in Knicks history to when Bill Bradley signed.

Patrick changed the entire tenor and attitude of the organization and fans as few before him ever had. So in this category I’m subjectively awarding Patrick 6.5 points and Willis 3.5 point.

Cumulative Score: Patrick – 40.73 ……….. Willis – 39.27

Championships = 10 Points:

Here’s where the rubber ultimately and definitively hits the proverbial road.

Willis won 2 championships…….Patrick none…….

By even more so, Willis led the team to their first-ever NBA Championship in 1970 (playoff MVP), and it wasn’t until, although not the player he had been before injury, he was able to return to being an impactful player once again, did the Knicks win another championship (1973). And he was the MVP of the 1973 playoffs.

Point is, it took a dominant season (1969-70), and an impactful season and playoffs (1972-73) from Willis Reed to bring the Knicks the only 2 championships in team history.

So, in this highly critical category, Willis walks away with all 10 points.

FINAL SCORE:   Willis – 49.27 Points …….. Patrick – 40.73

So there you have it. Is this analysis and comparison perfect? Probably not. Can the results be argued and debated? I’m sure they can!! Does it definitively mean Willis was a better player than Patrick? I don’t know.

But I do think that what is presented here is telling and not totally off base.

Let me know your thoughts!!! That’s the whole point in this.


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