Best Season as a Knick: 1995-96, 14.0 PPG, .464/.372./.757 Shooting, 4.3 APG, 1.6 SPG,
Two of my favorite Mets of recent years have been Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran. Not so much for their play on the field, but their professionalism and dedication to staying on that field. Two seasons ago, with the Mets out of the race, Beltran returned to play the final two weeks of a lost season, with the simple explanation that it was his job to be on the field, no matter what. In a couple of days, Santana will be in Savannah, Georgia to throw four innings in a rehab start. Rehabbing for what, exactly? Well, that was Jose Reyes’ question a couple years back, when he was in the same boat as Beltran and couldn’t have bolted for Santo Domingo fast enough.
There have been plenty of Knicks down the years who took the Reyes attitude, but Derek Harper was the first in my lifetime to choose the way of Santana and Beltran. Harper made it clear to a young fan that he treated his place in the team like a job, and Madison Square Garden like an office. This is another one of those spots in the list where we highlight a player who wasn’t actually here all that long – Harper played just 258 games with the Knicks over three seasons. But Harper deserves it: every time we harp on the smash-mouth defense of the mid-90’s Knicks, we owe it to Derek Harper. Charles Oakley, badass though he was, couldn’t have earned that team’s reputation all by himself.
Of course Harper was also a very effective offensive player, but that was mostly during his prime in Dallas. As a Knick he’ll be remembered for bringing the perimeter intensity to match our muscle in the paint. Without him, we might remember that era wholly differently: without a Finals appearance, perhaps, and maybe not even as the resident bullies of the Eastern Conference.