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Patrick Williams is making the leap too

Will Gottlieb Avatar
December 24, 2023

Coby White has been the headliner of the last month of Chicago Bulls basketball, but Patrick Williams is quietly starting to come into his own.

In the Bulls’ 109-95 loss to the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, Williams was a solid contributor. He scored 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, connecting on 2-of-5 three-point attempts and grabbing three rebounds. Not the most eye-popping of numbers, but they’re in line with what he has put up over his most recent stretch of games.

Through his first 15 games, Williams was slumping in a big way. Averaging 5.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists on 33 percent shooting, 26 percent on threes and 80 percent on 1.3 free throw attempts per game, he was not himself.

But in the 15 games since, he’s up to 14.1 points, 5 rebounds, 1.7 assists on 52.3 percent shooting, 52.6 percent on threes and 71 percent on 2.1 free throw attempts per game.

He’s scored double-figures in 13-of-16 games. He is 14-of-21 on threes in his last five games. He’s cutting without the ball, putting pressure on the rim, shooting when open and playing the game without overthinking.

“When the pass comes to you, it’s a lot less, ‘one-on-one, I have to go get a bucket’,” Williams explained when asked why it’s easier to score with the way the Bulls are moving the ball. “The work was already done…the decisions already made. The close out is already there for you. Now it’s on you to then shoot, pass, if I don’t have anything, drive. If I don’t have anything, get it to the next guy try to help him be in a better position to make a read or make a play.”

With the ball moving, it’s easier to hear what the game is telling you to do next. That stylistic change, maybe more than anything else, has helped Williams on his quest to follow White as the next breakout Bull.

Defensively, Williams is already there. He has turned into one of the premier defenders in the league. He routinely takes the toughest matchup, and ranks in the 88th percentile in defensive estimated plus-minus (EPM).

He’s one of seven players (Alex Caruso, Jusuf Nurkic, Mitchell Robinson, Herb Jones, Isaiah Hartenstein and Victor Wembanyama) who have a steal rate at or above 1.7 percent and a block rate at or above 3.5 percent, having played a minimum of 500 minutes.

The Bulls defense (ranked 10th in their last 8 games), is 4.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court compared to when he sits — the second-best figure on the team, following Jevon Carter, and yes, ahead of Alex Caruso.

Combine that with a 41.4 percent three-point shooter and you have the making of an incredibly valuable player. And that’s before you get into the potential for shot creation.

If there’s more to him than a big wing, high-level role player, it’s ball handling and footwork that will unlock his scoring upside. Williams likes to pull up from the elbow, but he needs to improve his dribbling skills to get all the way to the rim, where he can finish higher-value shots and earn trips to the free-throw line.

“I think I’ve gotten so much better at it,” he said. “Not only just handling the ball, I think I can handle the ball. It’s it’s a matter of knowing when to use what moves, what set ups. And knowing it doesn’t take five moves.”

“I like to watch a lot of film of wings. I think a lot of wings or bigs want to watch guards like Kyrie, Steph. Where a lot of guys my size and athleticism, we don’t need three moves. We can have one move, two moves, and have the same outcome as Kyrie would have with five, six moves.”

Here’s a great example on the opening possession of the game against the Cavs. A simple bang-bang crossover that helps him get to the rim and finish through contact.

Williams has been turnover-prone at times, dribbling the ball off his leg or foot, and he knows he needs to clean that up. But Williams actually has the highest usage of his career (15.5 percent) with the lowest turnover percentage (11.7 percent) of his career.

“Try to get some ball handling in every day,” he said. “But it’s a matter of being able to handle the ball for sure. 1000 percent. Still working on that. But it’s a matter of when and where to use that ball handling. That’s the bigger part of it, being able to read when and where.”

Williams understands the pressure on him to develop his game. He knows he is a big part of the Bulls future. Seeing the way his buddy White has turned into a star alongside him gives him confidence that he can do the same.

“I always want to get better every year,” he said. “Not just take a jump and then plateau.”

“Everybody’s process is different. Everybody’s development is different. I’ve always been a person that consistently got better. My approach to the game, I never want to be a guy that slacks off. Whether I’m playing good or bad or however I’m playing, I never want to be a guy that stops coming to the gym, stops coming in early, stops staying late. I always want to get better. That’s that’s always been my passion is getting better.”

And he knows if he keeps doing his thing, without worrying about his contract or the outside noise, he’ll do just that.

“It really just comes down to the work. You can’t really control the situation or opportunities you have coming in. But it’s just about the work you put in being ready.”

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