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NBA Preseason is like ‘Whose Line is it Anyway’. Everything is made up and the points don’t matter. At least, that’s what we’re hoping, because the Bulls went 1-4 in exhibition games after wrapping things up with a 114-105 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.
While the results don’t matter, the process does. There are plenty of areas that need cleaning up. The offense is trending towards movement and motion. The defense is attempting to rediscover its top-five ways from the year prior. But at the end of the day, for this thing to work, the players have to play better.
For the Bulls to elevate their ceiling, that means Patrick Williams taking a step forward.
For Williams, that step doesn’t necessarily mean scoring 20 points a night. It means attacking closeouts. It means getting all the way to the rim instead of pulling up at the elbow. It means defending, rebounding, cutting, running in transition. Aggression means reacting quickly and decisively to the defense, not just barreling through defenders.
All of that is proven by one of Williams more impactful games in spite of some dreadfully inefficient numbers.
Williams finished with 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, including 0-of-7 threes and 4-of-4 free throws. He had five rebounds, an assist and four turnovers.
The efficiency was ugly. The turnovers were less than ideal. But all things considered, it was one of his most encouraging performances all preseason, including his efficient 20-point night he had against the Nuggets.
“He shot the ball really poorly tonight. Really poorly. And he shot the ball really poorly from the three-point line. And everybody felt his presence in the game,” Billy Donovan said, in the most positive way possible.
Tuesday night was rough for Williams. Donovan yanked Williams from the lineup just 2:45 into the game to challenge him to assert himself. He improved his play in the fourth quarter, but it was not a performance either party was happy with.
So in the very first possession of Thursday’s game, Williams stepped into a three on the first possession of the game. It missed, but he didn’t let that shake him. The second possession, he came down with a thunderous dunk. He followed that up with a drive and finish over one of the best rim protectors in the league, Rudy Gobert.
“For sure,” Williams was trying to make a statement. He was happy with his response to Donovan’s challenge.
“As a player, it’s always a tricky thing, some players don’t like to get pushed or challenged,” Williams explained. “Some do. The great ones, they usually do. So for me, that was how I viewed it. You don’t never want a coach to give up on you. Credit to [Donovan], he didn’t. Taking me out early, challenging me, testing me, however you want to put it, it was something I need to respond from. I told him, stay on me. Don’t ever take it easy on me, feel like you’ve got to please me or anything like that.”
“If I’m bullshitting you, take me out.”
Seven of Williams’ 12 attempts were from deep, and he missed them all. Williams was a 41.5 percent three-point shooter last year, it’s fair to throw some of that out.
Encouragingly, Williams was 3-of-5 inside the arc and all of the makes came inside the paint. He got to the line for four free throws, which matched his total trips from the four previous preseason games.
He grabbed a preseason high five rebounds. He wasn’t deterred by the misses. If Williams is to gobble up more usage, he’ll have to live through mistakes and turnovers, and to his credit, he kept on moving forward.
Hot and cold shooting nights happen, but this is the foundation of a much more sustainable offensive game. One that both compliments the stars around him and scales up when he gets opportunities to create.
Williams wasn’t perfect. He hesitated on a three here and passed out of a drive there. But overall the process behind his decisions was as good as it has been. Now it’s about stringing those games together, and of course, seeing the ball go in.
“Here’s the guy that didn’t make a three, was 0-of-7, didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but everybody felt his impact in the game. That’s what he’s got to do. But can he do it consistently?”
There’s that buzzword ‘consistency’ again. It’s easy to ride the wave with the result of each game prior. It’s time to start stringing these performances together.
No excuses now, we know he’s capable.
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: 29.6% (86th percentile)
- Offensive rebound rate: 19.1% (12th percentile)
- Rim frequency: 32 % (46th percentile)
- Three-point attempt frequency: 39% (51st percentile)
- Transition frequency: 14.1% (20th percentile)
The Wolves are big and long and anchored by Gobert — not the kind of guy one enjoys testing at the rim, and someone who makes offensive rebounding a near impossibility. While those areas left a bit to be desired, the Bulls still did a nice job of getting into the paint to draw fouls and generate spray out threes.
Up next: Regular season home opener on Wednesday, October 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder
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