NY Knicks: Who was the better center? Patrick Ewing or Willis Reed?

Patrick Ewing, Knicks. (Photo by MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP via Getty Images)
Patrick Ewing, Knicks. (Photo by MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Patrick Ewing, Knicks. (Photo by MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP via Getty Images) /

Who was the better offensive player?

When it comes to the 60s and 70s in the NBA, people look at the rough-and-tumble reputation of the era and usually assume that its players are all big, clumsy, though guys.  Better at throwing elbows than operating with the ball.  While Willis Reed was certainly a tough guy, he’s actually much more skilled than the modern fan gives him credit for.

A lefty finisher at 6’9, Reed’s greatest weapon on the offensive side of the floor was his mid-range jumper.  A high flick of a shot that would keep him even with the Kareems and Wilts and other 7+ foot monstrosities making things dangerous around the rim.

On-ball, Reed preferred to face-up in the post. He’d take some quick dribbles and a hop step to get himself into the paint, and it’s there that he starts using his own physical gifts. Once close enough to the basket where layups and hooks are available to him, Reed would get low, use his strength and barrel chest (and maybe an elbow or two) to clear out space for himself, before hooking in and finishing either through the contact or around it.

Reed’s offensive game combined brute force with deceptive finesse. It didn’t look like he was that skilled because of the way he would flick the ball up from 15-feet (no smoothness there) or would barrel and claw his way inside, but if you really look at his scoring game critically you’ll see that it’s actually pretty nuanced.

In the second round of the 1970 playoffs (the year the Knicks would go on to win their first title), Willis was matched up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a grueling 5 games. By this point, Kareem was already the best player on the planet and gave the Knicks all they could handle by averaging a monstrous 34, 18, and 5, on 55% shooting in the series. Still, Willis was able to match his with his own 27, 14, and 3, (54%) and the rest is history.

The one knock is the raw numbers for the bulk of his career. In an era that saw Bob McAdoo have a 34.5 PPG season, Elvin Hayes has 28.4, Kareem put up 34.8, not to mention the Wilt Chamberlain numbers, and Willis Reed’s scoring and rebounding numbers start to look a little meek by comparison. Reed never averaged more than 22 points a game (in 1969-70), so if we’re going to knock him on anything it’d be his lack of scoring dominance at his peak.

Patrick Ewing…

doesn’t have those problems.  From 1985 to 1997 Ewing was a 24 and 10, peaking in 1989-90 where he averaged 29 and 11 and made 1st team All-NBA.  While both Ewing and Reed liked to strike a balance on both ends of the floor, Ewing’s offensive upside was far superior.

Ewing liked to operate from the low post with his back to the basket.  The Knicks would feed him the ball, clear out, and then allow him to go to work.  His bread and butter?  The turnaround jumper. Not so much a fadeaway, more just turning quickly and shooting over his defender with that 7’3 wingspan.

Ewing’s turnaround jumper opened his post-game up around the basket because the defenders had to respect him from mid, but if we’re being honest Ewing was never had the trickiness the other great post scorers did. His scoring had more to do with his size, touch, and dominance rather than deception. He was famously bad at dealing with double teams. Ewing ranks 12th on the all-time list for turnovers at a career 3.0 a game (he cracked 4.0 twice in ’88 and ’90).

At the end of the day, Ewing wouldn’t outthink you. He had skill, but it was more about natural ability and pure talent than trickery and orchestration. Still, his dominance and raw numbers are more impressive than anything Reed did offensively.

Winner:  Patrick Ewing