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Why does the development of Patrick Williams continue to crawl as the Bulls enter 2023?

Will Gottlieb Avatar
January 1, 2023

Just as I was lamenting Patrick Williams’ puny 14 percent usage rate, the Bulls made it a point to not just involve him, but feature him early in Saturday night’s 103-102 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Williams was involved in a pick-and-roll for three straight possessions, both as a screener and ball-handler. Those plays resulted in six points on three shots at the rim.

This was awesome. Exactly what we want to see from Williams. That was great.

He’s involved in the play and understands his agency to read and react to how he is being defended. He’s attacking the basket decisively and wisely moving into open spaces to create offense for himself.

But despite this sequence, Williams went the rest of the first half with only one more field goal attempt.

“It takes time,” DeRozan told CHGO. “He’s still a young guy, but he definitely shows spurts of you know growing, getting more and more comfortable, understanding what needs to be done. It’s going to continue to grow for him.”

Yet the same thing happened in the second half. Rinse, repeat. The Bulls went to Williams early in the third quarter, racking up three field goal attempts in the first three-plus minutes. That was it. He finished with nine points on seven total shots on the game.

In fact, Williams has only attempted double-digit field goal attempts in seven of the Bulls’ 36 games.

One of the major storylines coming into the season appears to have become tired. Have we become resigned to the fact that this is just how it’s going to be for Patrick Williams?

Though I complain about the shot attempts, he does average the fourth most on the team. He should have a chance to get a few more shots up, but field goal attempts are not the real issue. They’re a proxy for the lack of growth we’ve seen from Williams this year.

Almost halfway through the season, Williams cannot be the latest failed Bulls development project. There has to be a better balance. A better way to help him develop while also complimenting the core three.

Right now, neither party is doing their part.

For one, Williams has to be better. He hasn’t done anything to earn a greater share of the offense. But DeRozan would argue that’s not the entire story.

“You gotta think about it, we give him the toughest matchup every single night,” DeRozan retorted. “He takes on that challenge every single night. That’s not an easy task to take on. He’s guarding the best players every single night, he’s doing everything that’s asked of him by the coaching staff, by us, to make us the team that we need to be. That’s all you can ask from him. As he gets comfortable doing that more and more, everything else will open up too.”

The Bulls are trying to win games. And their best chance of doing so is by running the vast majority of their offense through DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Featuring or involving Williams is not helping that.

But for me, where it gets even more frustrating is that he isn’t even on the court in those crucial moments. Even as a defensive specialist. Javonte Green had a massive first half through cutting, transition and timely attacks of the basket. Alex Caruso has become the clutch time power forward.

Williams rode the bench during the closing minutes of both halves — Billy Donovan opted to play Caruso at the power forward spot, as he has been of late. The lineup of Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic is easily the Bulls’ best. 15th in the NBA, that group has +18.3 net rating.

Even if we can’t see it from the couch or the sidelines, DeRozan sees growth and urges patience with his mentee.

“So much stuff is still new,” he said. “As you go through the process of it all, you just try to give him knowledge you can give to help throughout the season, throughout certain games, situations. So that’s an everlasting that will continue. There’s still so many moments that’s new, fresh to him. It will take time, repetition, being in certain situations, going against certain players, doing certain things to continue to get comfortable with those.

So for him, it’s just part of the development.”

I wrote this column wanting to give Williams a New Year’s Resolution or two and point out the narrative around his growth has stagnated. After talking with DeRozan, I see both sides. Maybe our resolution should be to reframe that perspective and try to do a better job of seeing where he is improving, even if it’s not in the form of field goals attempted.

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