New York Knicks: How rugged forwards define their success

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NEW YORK – CIRCA 1970: Dave DeBusschere #22 of the New York Knicks looks on while there’s a break in the action during an NBA basketball game circa 1970 at Madison Square Garden in the Manhattan borough of New York City. DeBusschere played for the Knicks from 1968-74. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

The New York Knicks might be wise to return to their rugged roots.

For all of the talk about modern big men being able to space the floor, the New York Knicks might want to consider a different kind of forward in building out their team under recently-hired head coach Tom Thibodeau. What type of forward is that? Let me explain.

I was listening to a podcast right before the NBA playoffs were about to commence and the subject of the segment was the Houston Rockets’ approach to small ball. While most casual observers were mocking the fact that they were playing without a player taller than 6’7″, the logic given made sense. If you don’t have a dominant rim protector, then you’re better off having someone built like a middle linebacker protecting the paint. The Rockets were playing P.J. Tucker at center, a very different player than Clint Capela, the original rim runner.

Tucker is only 6’5″ tall, but weighs 245 lbs and has a 7-foot wingspan. When you consider that today’s players don’t post up much, it’s more important to have a player than can roam in-and-out of the paint to cut off drives while also being able to muscle opponents off their favorite spots around the key.

How the Rockets’ model applies to the Knicks

That got me thinking of when the Knicks used Anthony Mason to cover Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1994 Finals. While Olajuwon was much taller, Mason was strong enough to push him off his spots. Mason was effective in slowing Olajuwon down when he covered him in spurts. This allowed Ewing to take off some possessions on defense.

When I thought of it some more, I realized that some of the most popular Knicks were the big, thick enforcer types. The main reason is because they played on the best Knick teams in franchise history.

If you were to associate a type of player with winning Knicks basketball, it’s not a flashy guard or a center with dominant post moves, it’s a tough rugged power forward. An intimidator that protects the Garden from opponents that are looking to get some shine on basketball’s biggest stage.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane in remembering some of the most rugged forwards in Knicks history before considering who from this year’s draft could potentially play that role in the future.

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