Top 3: Next Great Leaders in the NBA

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Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George demonstrated a key principle of leadership on Friday, holding a pregame, players-only meeting with his teammates. In the meeting, he went over how the then 7-9 Pacers can improve, which plays the team should implement, and curated input from all his teammates.

Later that night, a Pacers team coming off back-to-back losses blew out the Nets 118-97 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I wanted to get the guys together and kind of wanted to get them to just start seeing the game differently,” George said after the Pacers’ shootaround (via Indy Star). “If there’s action going on strong side, why can’t we talk and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to set you up for this back screen or I’m going to get to you for this pin down.’ No reason why we can’t communicate on the offensive end.”

Some lead by example, some lead vocally, some lead by their mere presence. George managed to encapsulate all three of those methods this past Friday and he’s a more respected player for it. But looking around the NBA, who are some current or budding leaders? Players whose talent translates into leadership which leads to an improved team.

Let’s take a look at three of those players.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Many view the Bulls as Butler’s team. His new teammate Dwayne Wade said before the season that he and fellow free agent acquisition, Rajon Rondo, are coming to ‘Butler’s team.’ Thus far, the Houston, Texas, native’s performance has been spectacular as he averages 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists through the team’s first 16 games. The Bulls are 10-6 to open the season.

But a frustrating year last season, saw a collapse keep the Bulls out of the playoffs and Butler’s leadership – and future – in Chicago questioned. Injuries limited Butler, a tumultuous relationship with head coach Fred Hoiberg was scrutinized, and trade rumors were aplenty.

However, Butler has come out with a purpose, playing his usual All-Star caliber style. He was challenged by his new teammates, particularly Rondo.

"I told Jimmy a leader can't pick and choose when he wants to lead," Rondo said to K.C. Johnson of theChicago Tribune. "He has to come out every day, every practice."

If he maintains his solid style of play and shows he can handle adversity, Butler’s leadership will match his talent.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

The 26-year-old has attained veteran status and has gotten better like a fine wine. Through 16 games, the University of Connecticut product is averaging career-highs in points (24.5), field goal percentage (.469), and three-pointers made (2.8). The Hornets are off to a strong 9-7 start, largely thanks to the Bronx, New York, native Walker’s all-around dominance.

As Jerry Stephens of Fansided’s Swarm and Sting writes, Walker has become an infectious personality in Charlotte. Teammates live up to their Hornets name and swarm around their point guard; teammate Roy Hibbert noted in late September that Walker “wanted everyone to get together at the beginning of the month” before the preseason to start working.

Walker has never made an All-Star team but if he continues at this pace, he will be a virtual lock for his first All-Star game later this season.

But the individual accolade pales in comparison to how Walker is working to keep a Hornets team not rich in star power afloat.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The No.1 overall pick from this year’s draft has yet to suit up as he recovers from foot surgery. However, when the Australian point guard does play, he will step onto the hardwood with mammoth expectations.

After one lone season as Louisiana State University, where he averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, the 20-year-old drew comparisons to NBA legend Magic Johnson and current superstar Lebron James for his innate passing and creative scoring tendencies. 

“There’s only one Magic, one LeBron, hopefully, one Ben Simmons,” he told GiveMeSport one day before he was drafted. “Everyone is going to try and compare players to each other but at the end of the day, I want people to say he plays like Ben Simmons.”

Praised for his athleticism, Simmons will give a versatile Philadelphia team an intriguing option in the backcourt. If he can harness his potential, Simmons’ playmaking talents will put him in the upper echelon of the NBA’s talents.

Paul George
Indiana Pacers
Central Division
Eastern Conference

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