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Bulls power forward battle takes an interesting twist

Will Gottlieb Avatar
October 18, 2023

Following his 20-point performance on Sunday, Patrick Williams struggled in the Bulls 106-102 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the team’s fourth preseason game.

Scoring 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting, Williams didn’t have the same efficiency to buoy his game, and the lack of physicality, both on the boards and driving to the basket, caused Billy Donovan to yank Williams from the lineup after 2:45 into the first quarter.

“No,” Donovan said of whether that substitution was pre-planned. “First of all I wanted to talk to him about it because we talked about some of it before the game.”

“There was a lot of opportunities for him to get to the backboard and offensive rebounds,” Donovan said. “We had talked about it and I didn’t like the way we came out.”

Williams has just 10 rebounds in four preseason games so far. He’s got to be more physical on the glass, but also setting screens, making decisions, cutting and getting all the way to the basket on drives.

“We can’t run away from physicality and think you’re going to out run it,” Donovan said. “You’ve got to lean into it. Not necessarily meet force with force, but you’re going to have to screen to free eachother up and help each other that way.”

And to Williams’ credit, he improved in that area in the fourth quarter.

Though he wasn’t necessarily making his shots, there was a chance in approach in a very positive way.

“Can we get that when the game starts?” Donovan said. “Can we get that where he’s on the glass — that’s what we’ve got to get. Hopefully these are learning experiences for him. He shows he can do it, we’ve just got to find a way to continually pull that out of him.”

Torrey Craig’s activity

On the other end of the power forward spectrum, Torrey Craig was a breath of fresh air.

Though he didn’t shoot it well (four points on 2-of-7 shooting), Craig had five rebounds (three offensive), three assists and a steal to go along with two monster chasedown blocks.

And the eye test was even more impressive than the box score.

Craig was flying all over the court, getting over screens, hassling ball handlers, swooping in for offensive boards and making his presence felt in every facet of the game.

“He plays with a lot of motor and physicality,” Donovan said. “He’s obviously been in the league and guarded a lot of different guys. But he knows how to play with really good players. He understands how to function and play with those guys.”

Craig ended up playing with the starters in place of Williams in the team’s closing unit, which could be an indicator of things to come during the regular season. If his play in Tuesday’s game was anything like the level of production the Bulls will get out of him this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him grab ahold of that role.

Offensive keys

The Bulls have plans to overhaul their offense by offensive rebounding, getting out in transition and getting into the paint to generate kickout threes, layups and free throw attempts. Here’s how they performed in each of those categories:

  • Free throw attempt rate: 9.5 (2nd percentile)
  • Offensive rebound rate: 32.1% (82nd percentile)
  • Rim frequency: 42% (96th percentile)
  • Three-point attempt frequency: 25% (1st percentile)
  • Transition frequency: 15.2% (23rd percentile)

Credit the Raptors defense for making it difficult for the Bulls to do the things they wanted to do. But the Bulls have preached that they want to generate more free throw attempts and threes and they haven’t been able to do that.

“You look down and you see 26 threes. Not that you want to take 50, but we had an opportunity in my opinion to take another 10,” Donovan said. “And what we’re doing is shot faking and passing them up and trying to drive the ball and we’re not even going to the rim. We’re driving to the elbow and stopping and trying to pass. And we end up with a more difficult shot than we had prior to that.”

The Bulls shot fewer combined threes (26) and free throws (11) than the Raptors shot total free throws (38). That they only lost by four points is somewhat of a shocker.

The improvements on the offensive glass and getting to the rim are great. But those things only become harder if the Bulls resort back to their iso-ball, mid-range ways of the last few seasons.

Up next: Pre-season finale against the Timberwolves on Thursday

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