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Patrick Williams has finally made his return to play after 5 months of recovery. It’s good to have him back.
There has been a lot of excitement surrounding his return and for good reason. The 4th overall pick in 2020 figures to be a huge part of the Bulls future. He’s got a tantalizing toolkit of physical attributes and plays a premium position of need.
The Bulls are in win now mode. They need reliable contributors across the rotation for the playoff push. Williams is very much a work in progress. And that’s ok. Still, he’s only 20 years old. He’s missed 65 games this season and hasn’t had time to string together enough minutes to level up into the big wing star every team covets.
Mark Karantzoulis and I discuss the early returns and how our opinion of him evolves with each passing game.
Will: You and I have strongly advocated against getting carried away with expectations, but just two games back and I’m very happy with what I’ve seen from Patrick. The high level notes are that he’s taking on important defensive assignments in the form of Pascal Siakam and Giannis Antetkounmpo. He’s moving well without the ball, attacking closeouts and making quick decisions. To me, this is exactly what the Bulls get out of him in an ideal world, so to see it starting to crystalize in games 1 and 2 is very encouraging.
Let’s start on offense. What specifically has stood out to you?
Mark: We have to remember that Williams was a player who sported a low usage rate in his rookie season, and at times, appeared laconic when it came time for him to initiate his own offense.
Based on who he’s been, along with missing so much time, I’m honestly impressed that Williams came right back and, in 19 minutes against Toronto, got up 8 shots. I didn’t see that coming.
Why this was unexpected is Williams only had 12 games in his rookie season in which he posted a usage percentage which was equal or greater than 20 percent. In his first game in months, Williams posted a 20 percent usage rate against the Raptors.
This context is important as it highlights who Williams has traditionally been. And yet, here he is, launching 8 attempts vs. Toronto, of which three of his shots were 3-point jumpers.
I love that ratio. A large portion of his offense needs to be 3-point attempts. That’s a look he’s consistently going to get within the offense, especially in the corner. These spot-up scenarios are big for both Williams and the Bulls – the latter of whom rank last in 3-point attempt rate in the league.
Will: The prevailing narrative out of the Raptors game was that Williams has a good understanding of his role and where he fits into the rotation. This isn’t a case of reeling in bad shot selection or forcing up shots for the sake of forcing up shots. Rather, they are encouraging him to step up to the moment, and I think he has done a good job of that so far.
Beyond the on-ball stuff, I really like the way Pat floats around the court, finding gaps and space in the defense, going after every single offensive rebound. It’s an element the Bulls don’t really have anywhere else, so it’s a nice breath of fresh air.
To be honest, the defense is specifically where I want to temper expectations.
Williams is booked as a defense-first player, but he has had a lot of trouble so far. Granted, he’s taking on huge responsibility — guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam. Even still, he’s been getting cooked by Bobby Portis in the post. He struggles to get around screen. He’s had a bunch of moments where he’s fallen asleep and allowed a back cut.
This is the epitome of small sample size. Defense is hard and no one is perfect. He’s got the tools, and he’s had moments, but he has not been the defensive stopper I think a lot of fans want him to be. Yet!
Am I being too harsh?
Mark: Based purely on the outcome, I think your analysis is fair. He was undoubtedly cooked in certain sequences by both Antetokounmpo and Siakam.
Whilst I agree, I’m prepared to give him a pass purely because his conditioning is undoubtedly not where it should be – his planned minutes restriction is due to this, not his wrist injury.
Guarding Antetokounmpo is a near-impossible task at the best of times. Predictably, it didn’t go well. That said, to be given this matchup after battling Siakam one night earlier is a lot to ask of someone who hasn’t played basketball for months.
As for the off-ball miscues, that’s harder for me to defend. That shouldn’t happen, and is likely a product of in-game engagement. Perhaps, though, mental fatigue is as real a thing as getting his wind back?
Something else to consider: Williams looks a lot slimmer in year two compared to the kid we saw last season. I’m not sure if this is by design or simply his body evolving in such a way. Regardless, to my eye, at least, his upper body appears slight. I wonder if that’s impacting his ability to body up and get into his opponent in isolation coverages? It would explain an inability to fight through screens, too.
Overall, though, I agree his production on defense has been overstated. It’s more theoretical than actualised.
Will: As I have said all along, Williams is a work in progress. Coming back from an injury like this, missing so much time and being a super young, inexperienced player, so of course he’s not going to be the best version of himself. The point is, we shouldn’t expect him to be.
Players make mistakes. No one can shut down the elite players in the league. Not of this is to say he is bad, or he will never improve. This is where the measuring stick begins. This is how we keep tabs on his improvements over the rest of the season.
All things considered, you have to be encouraged by Williams’ production, though I’m not sure my opinion of him has changed. I’ll pose this to you quickly because I think it’s ripe for a further discussion, but where do you think he factors into the playoff rotation?
Mark: Javonte Green has performed admirably as a makeshift power forward all season. Unless Williams takes a leap, Green has earned the right to continue starting games.
Doing so effectively means Williams is the Bulls’ backup four. I think this rotation is the right strategy for the first 42 minutes of the game. As for the final sequences of the fourth quarter? This should be a game-to-game proposition.
Let matchups and in-game production determine who finishes games.
Ideally, though, neither player closes. Get well soon, Lonzo.
Will: I’m sure this will not surprise you, but I want to get funky with some Derrick Jones Jr and/or Williams at center lineups. The Bulls have the wing depth to be able to pull something like that off in spurts.
Either way, I think he’s at a great point to start growing. Getting a taste of the playoffs in year two should really help his development, so being experimental and trying to find out what feels right will go a long way.
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