Patrick Ewing was as dominant a force as there was in the NBA during the late 80’s and 90’s. Joining the New York Knicks in the “rigged” NBA draft of 1985 the center from Georgetown was supposed to take over the league and return the franchise back to glory. Ewing was joining a team that actually had made the playoffs in three of the previous five years. The rookie made an instant impact scoring 20 PPG and 9 RPG, winning the rookie of the year award. Ewing continued to be a dominant player in the league becoming an 11-time All-Star, ending his career 13th all-time in his career. Ewing individually has a great career but he will forever be known as the one of the best center’s to never win a title. In today’s NBA game the traditional center has transitioned into a different type of player. There is one player in particular that stands out as the next Ewing. His similarities are hard to ignore and his fate may be the same.
Patrick Ewing’s time in the NBA always had a shadowy overtone. In that shadow was the greatest player of all time Michael Jordan and his dominant Bulls teams of the 90’s. No matter what he did his team was not able to overcome the greatness of the Bulls. Even in the baseball years of Jordan, Ewing had to deal with the dominance for Hakeem and the Houston Rockets. Ewing was able to make it to one finals in 93-94 but Houston was a much better team. So, why did Ewing not win a title? He was able to lead Georgetown to a national title. He was consistently winning games at both levels, but it seemed like when he entered the NBA his game changed. He came into the league as a defensive and rebounding force. The offensive game was supposed to develop over time and it did, but he lost what made himself dominant. His formation of his offensive game got the Knicks front office so excited that they decided to build around him. They added one-dimensional players like John Starks, Anthony Mason, Rolando Blackman and Larry Johnson. In reality building around Ewing was not the wrong move but they should have added a premier scorer rather than players to work along with him.
With the development of his offensive game, Ewing’s defense took a hit. He was not the same player that was drafted for his interior force. The Knicks eventually added their premier scorer when they traded for Latrell Sprewell in 1998. Ewing had begun his decline, which led to the Knicks adding big man Marcus Camby to eventually fill the shoes of the organization’s icon. The Knicks were able to transition very quickly without Ewing making an improbable run without him. New York was able to make it to the finals even though he had an achilles injury that forced him out of the playoffs. This would be the last chance for Ewing to win the big one with the team that drafted him. His career would have a few more stops in Orlando and Seattle but the player that dominated the league was gone. Patrick Ewing is a case of a player with a team that didn’t understand how to utilize his skills and build around him correctly. He was extremely talented but the team and the player were not the right mix to win it all. Ewing should have been a franchise changer that was a part of a great dynasty. He never had a Kobe, a Clyde or Jerry West. A big man should have a go to player to work with and he never had that.
In the 2014 NBA Draft the Philadelphia 76ers were in the midst of their “Trust the Process” rebuild. With the #3 overall pick they chose Kansas center Joel Embiid. Embiid had a prevalent knee injury that kept him out of the lineup until 2016. Embiid immediately made a difference for the 76ers leading them out of the abyss. The comparison to Ewing is actually very interesting. Both players were born outside of the US, both players played for premier college programs, both players were rebuilding large city franchises. In their first seasons in the league they both made the All-Rookie first team as well as averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds. The amount of similarities are impossible to ignore.
Embiid has seen similar problems to Ewing during his short time in the NBA. He has had to deal with all-world players Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and now Giannis. Each of the top players in the league have the talent and the correct organizational pieces to build around. Embiid has had to deal with players that don’t fit with the skill set that he brings to the table. He should be an inside force that draws the defense and kicks out to athletic shooters. If he does decide to play outside of the paint it should not be consistent. The Sixers have Ben Simmons, whose game does not fit with Embiid. Simmons inability to shoot forces him into the paint which allows the defense to clog up the middle of the lane. The organization needs to develop the understanding of today’s game. They have to utilize the best assets of their star player.
If Philadelphia doesn’t find a way to understand their player they will forever be the team that is known for wasting a great talent. Ewing will go down as a historically great player that was never good enough and Embiid is on track to do the same.