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The day has finally arrived.
After nearly five months of recovering from surgery required to repair a perilunate dislocation in his left wrist. Patrick Williams is set to return in Monday’s game against the Raptors.
It’s great to get the second-year forward back into the rotation. With 12 games left in the season, he’ll have some time to reacclimate before the Bulls hopeful playoff run.
After missing 65 games, any value Williams can provide at this point is a bonus. Williams is a huge piece of the Bulls future, but it remains to be seen how much value he’ll add to the team upon his immediate return.
Opportunism in the flow
I went back to watch every minute of Williams’ play this season and wasn’t too impressed with his production. The Bulls barely ever put him in any offensive action. He’s there to space the floor and be an opportunistic cutter.
The area where he provides the most value relative to Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. — two players with whom he will be competing for power forward minutes — is his ability to attack closeouts.
Everything he gets in the offense will be within the flow, but there isn’t much usage for that role in general. Neither Green nor Jones Jr., do much with the ball other than cut, shoot and make the extra pass. Williams can do that too.
He’s also a statistically better shooter.
Williams needs to be cranking up the three-point volume. Of course, it’s better to have a higher percentage than lower, but Williams passes up a ton of open threes. He’ll command hard closeouts because of that high percentage, but until he bombs away, he be susceptible to stalling out the offense and forcing DeRozan and LaVine to make something out of nothing.
Williams is an offensive work in progress to be sure, but he’s approximately the same, with more upside than the other two power forward options. The rosiest look is that he provides the best of both worlds — the three-point and closeout attacking ability who doesn’t sacrifice make you anything on defense.
Williams has the tools to be a really good defender. He’s big enough to bother shots by virtue of being longer than Green. Unlikely Jones Jr., he’s sturdy enough to not get moved off his spots in the post. He’s versatile enough to give the Bulls an element of switchability on defense.
Williams started both Pistons games guarding Jerami Grant. He also took on the Brandon Ingram, OG Anunoby, and Julius Randle assignments, proving Billy Donovan trusted him to take on the big wings that would otherwise be a mismatch nightmare for the Bulls.
Impressively, he was also able to do a solid job switching onto guards like Kemba Walker and Killian Hayes.
Williams is a bit heavy-footed. He gets caught on screens and , of course, shiftier guards will toast him every now and again. But the fact that the Bulls can throw these looks out every once in a while makes them a much more difficult team to plan for.
Just as important is his off ball defense. He does a great job sliding over to protect the rim as the low man.
You don’t see LaVine, DeRozan, Coby White etc. making that play.
The Bulls have really struggled with their back side help defense over the course of the season, and unfortunately, a lot of that blame is falling on Nikola Vucevic. Williams will be a huge boost here with his springiness and reaction time.
Areas for growth and exploration
Williams got the most action in second units with DeMar DeRozan playing small-ball center.
In addition to his ability to score from the mid-range, he’s by far the best passer of the power forward bunch. I’d love to see the Bulls try to stretch what he can provide offensively and gradually increase his responsibilities.
Williams plays 32 possessions at center this year and those lineups were +3.8. The offense was pretty terrible (96.9 points per 100 possessions) but the defense was great (93.1 points per 100 possessions). It’s a tasty idea and the Bulls should test it out in the final 12 games to see if they can use it in the playoffs.
Williams is a huge piece of the Bulls plans, and in theory, fits the bill as a big-wing, switchable defender with untapped offensive chops. The Bulls will ease him into their rotation and see how he can be a factor this year.
It’s important to remember that playoff rotations shrink. The players Donovan can trust will be the ones that earn minutes. Williams was looking more comfortable with each game, but this injury is a huge hit to his development. Having missed so much time, Williams hasn’t been able to prove he has the discipline, understanding and awareness to be able to execute on both sides in meaningful minutes.
He’s still just 20 years old, so don’t be too quick to burden him with savior status.
Excitement levels should be high, but expectations should be low.
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