One consistently brought up piece surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans has been the lack of a defined leader. As one of the youngest teams in the league, there is no doubt that inexperience and shyness may play a role in players being more hesitant to speak up, but that does not mean there should not be a leader. Every team, no matter the sport, needs to have someone that steps up and takes a hold of their team. When things are going well, they should be one of the first ones cheering on their teammates. When things are going poorly, they need to step up and hold themselves and their teammates accountable. For the Pelicans, who is that person?
Brandon Ingram is one name that comes up when you think about leaders of this young squad. After signing a max extension in the summer of 2020, Ingram has solidified himself as a core member of the team moving forward. He has been one of the longer-tenured members of the Pelicans and has the ability to take hold of games when needed. When asked about being a leader in the post-game interview on April 12th following the Kings game, Ingram responded by saying, “Just trying to be the same person every single day.” He continues by saying, “Just being patient and taking whatever the game brings you.” It seems clear that BI prefers to lead by example, but what does that mean as a leader?
Ingram’s play speaks for itself. According to NBA.com, the forward is averaging 24.0 points per game, 5.0 rebounds a game and 4.8 assists per game. Despite a few inconsistencies and struggles in clutch moments, Ingram is one of the most solid options as a leader moving forward.
Ingram is also one of those players who cheers on his teammates no matter what his own situation is. While he was sidelined with an injury at the end of March and into early April, he could be seen on the sidelines cheering and celebrating every big play his team made. Even though he could not be out on the floor, it is clear that he still wanted to make an impact. Brandon Ingram is also one of the players who makes it a point to greet each and every one of his teammates before they enter the locker room whether they win or lose. This type of personal relationship with the team makes leading them much easier.
Ingram is widely known as one of the most reserved players on the Pelicans. generally speaking, a quiet demeanor is not a quality that most look for in a leader. Although each person’s type of leading looks different, a squad of young players likely needs someone who will coach them up and light a fire under them if they are having a poor game.
Being the best player on a team automatically garners some attention. This is no different for Zion Williamson who has been the best player on the Pelicans since he was drafted by them first overall in 2019. Williamson is highly regarded as the face of the team, so naturally he is seen as a leader by many, but how can he maintain that moving forward? When asked in the interview following the Cavaliers game on April 11th if it was tough to have so much expected of him, he responded by saying “That’s just Stan seeing our potential, seeing what level of greatness we can reach. I’m glad he did it…If we want to be up there with the greats, we need to hear that.” Zion may be young, but he has high aspirations and a ceiling even higher than that.
Like Ingram, Williamson’s play speaks for itself. Night in and night out, Zion does unparalleled things that make the highlight shows for weeks after it happens. Averaging 26.8 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 3.7 assists per game (according to NBA.com), there is no question that this team is different when Zion is not on the court.
Just like Ingram, if Zion misses time however, he is always on the bench cheering on his team. He is often seen jumping up and down celebrating after a clutch 3 or monster dunk. That kind of cheering on your brothers is a major quality that a leader needs to have.
Like most of the team, Zion is extremely young. He has a lot of growing and learning to do still. Although he is seen as the best player on the court most nights, it is unfair to assume he will not make mistakes. Young players need time to grow and learn, so it is very possible that Williamson can still have nights where he needs to be led rather than be the one leading.
With the future of the New Orleans Pelicans looking brighter by the day, it is time for a leader to step up to the plate and take control of this team. The Pelicans can only fly as far as their leader brings them, so it is time for that leader to step up and spread his wings. Whether that ends up being Ingram, Williamson or both, they need to take charge now and prove themselves as the leader this team desperately needs.
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