Patrick Ewing was an outstanding two-way NBA center who was one of the ten greatest centers in NBA history and one of the ten best players of the 1990’s. Ewing retired as the Knicks leader in nearly every statistical category and was chosen for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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How good was Patrick Ewing’s career?
Patrick Ewing was a star at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in Massachusetts before going on to have one of the greatest college careers of all time under John Thompson at Georgetown. Ewing’s Hoyas won an NCAA title in 1984.
After the New York Knicks won the first ever NBA lottery to get the first pick in the 1985 draft, they selected Ewing first overall. Ewing would go on to play 15 memorable seasons for the Knicks before finishing his career with two unmemorable seasons with Orlando and Seattle.
During his Knicks tenure, Ewing met with great success. After being the Rookie of the Year, he was chosen 11 times to play in the NBA All Star game, made one All-NBA 1st Team and 6 All-NBA 2nd Teams as well as 3 NBA All-Defensive 2nd teams.
Ewing was selected to the original Dream Team in 1992 alongside all-time greats like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, John Stockton and Charles Barkley. Patrick Ewing was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, and was chosen for both the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and the follow up 75th Anniversary Team in 2021.
Ewing’s success in the NBA was not limited to personal numbers, as he led some great Knicks teams. During Ewing’s run with them, the Knicks were consistent contenders after his first few years. Unfortunately for Ewing, his teams were always very good but were also seemingly always blocked by some of the greatest players to ever live.
Michael Jordan’s Bulls beat the Knicks in the 1992 and 1993 Conference Finals. Ewing led his teams to the NBA Finals in 1994.But Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets beat the Knicks in the Finals.
Ewing was a member of another team that made the finals but he could not play in them due to injury. The 1999 Finals saw the San Antonio Spurs, featuring both Tim Duncan and David Robinson, turn aside the Knicks hopes for a first title since Clyde Frazier retired.Embed from Getty Images
How Good Was Patrick Ewing on Offense?
Patrick Ewing was really good offensively. He was a terrific, consistent post scorer who had a turnaround shot that could not be blocked because of his high release. In addition, Ewing had touch you may not have expected from someone his size.
He was a very good shooter who consistently made jumpers out to the 18-20 foot range. His True Shooting %, a measure that includes not just 2-point shots but free throws and threes, puts him tied with Hakeem Olajuwon and slightly below David Robinson.
Ewing was not a playmaker on offense, averaging fewer than 2 assists per game. He was not a blackhole but was never known for his fancy passes either.
Ewing turned the ball over way more than Hakeem Olajuwon and close to the same amount as David Robinson. These comparisons to Robinson and Olajuwon are both deliberate and somewhat unfair.
I have chosen to compare Ewing to these two great centers because they are clearly among the best centers, and players, to ever live. If you compared most other centers in league history to these two, the differences would be glaring.
On offense, Ewing holds up pretty well to these two greats. That says something about how great Patrick Ewing was as an offensive player.
Offensive rating tries to capture all that a player contributes to his team’s offense while he is on the floor. Ewing is in 3rd here, but close to Olajuwon. Robinson’s rating is nearly tied with Lebron at this point, which says something about him as well.
Offensive box plus/minus is a similar stat that tries to boil down all a player contributes on one side of the ball to a single stat. Again, Ewing is third but not horribly behind Olajuwon.
Ultimately, Patrick Ewing was an excellent offensive player who could shoot and score at a very high level in the NBA. His career stats show that he is a tiny bit behind David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, but not ridiculously so.Embed from Getty Images
How Good Was Patrick Ewing on Defense?
On defense, Ewing was strong as well. He was a great rim defender, strong rebounder, good post defender, and was pretty good at defending in space as well. Comparing Ewing to both Robinson and Olajuwon seems almost unfair as they are two of the greatest defensive centers to ever play.
Instead, I have substituted Shaq for Olajuwon. Now Shaq is also one of the greatest centers to ever live. But his offense far outweighed his good, but not quite all time, defense. As you can see, Ewing was actually a better defender than O’Neal.
Ewing got more steals, rebounds and blocks than Shaq while also having a better career defensive rating (lower is better for defensive rating) and defensive box plus/minus.
Of course, Robinson led Ewing in nearly every category as well. But, again, Robinson is in the conversation for best defensive center of the modern era, so that is not such a tough loss.
Ewing was not a one-trick pony. He could shoot and score on offense, but he was a great defensive player as well. Ewing anchored some of the best defenses in the league during his 90s run under Jeff Van Gundy and led many excellent Knicks defenses in his career.
How Good Was Patrick Ewing overall?
All three of these advanced stats, player efficiency rating (PER), win shares and box plus/minus, attempt to quantify how much a player contributes to their team overall. None is the golden stat that can tell us how good a player is, but, taken together, they can give a good look at how good a player was.
Just as before, these comparisons are both enlightening and a bit unfair. If I compared Ewing to Will Perdue and Luc Longley, his stats would look outrageously good. But compared to three of the greatest centers to ever play, Ewing comes in fourth.
But a decently close fourth place in this crowd speaks volumes. Ewing was not the player that Shaq, David Robison or Hakeem Olajuwon were. That is clear from the stats.
But he is not too far behind either. Let’s do another comparison: to Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, two other all-time greats from this era.
As you can see, Ewing comes out slightly ahead in this comparison. He was clearly better on offense than these two players while being slightly behind them on defense. And these two are not Longley and Perdue. Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo are two of the top twenty centers in NBA history.
Virtually every serious list of the best centers ever puts Ewing in the top ten, slightly below Shaq, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon. Lists that expand beyond the top ten often have Mourning and Mutombo in the second ten. That seems about right.
Patrick Ewing may be a bit underrated because he never won an NBA title and because many people compare him to other centers of his era and he comes up short. But the best centers of his era are quite literally among the best players to ever play the game.
When Ewing’s career is put in proper perspective, he is seen for what he was: one of the greatest players of the 90’s and one of the ten best centers to ever play. That is a pretty nice legacy for any player.Embed from Getty Images
Summary: How Good Was Patrick Ewing?
Patrick Ewing was one of the ten best centers to ever play the game and one of the ten best players of the 1990’s. He never won an NBA title and competed with some of the best centers to ever play, so he gets somewhat underrated. But Ewing was a two-way force who is an all-time great in NBA history.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.