The Chicago Bulls put all their balls in the Patrick Williams basket this offseason, making him the first hand-picked talent of the new regime. With that in mind, I think we can consider Williams the most untouchable Bulls roster member right now, which actually makes the next few weeks very intriguing.
Lauri Markkanen has a shoulder sprain that will keep him sidelined for roughly 2-to-4 weeks, according to the Bulls medical staff. His absence from the starting lineup will likely throw Williams into the starting power forward spot for the foreseeable future, a position he also filled at times when Markkanen missed seven games earlier this season due to the NBA’s Health & Safety Protocols. With Wendell Carter Jr. also out, however, Williams’ minutes in the frontcourt have become that much more important. The Bulls will not only need him to play a larger role in the rebounding department, but he’ll also likely be tasked with scoring in the paint far more often.
Fortunately, Williams got off to a pretty good start in both those categories during his most recent two games filling in for Markkanen. The rookie scored a career-high 20 points in Game 1 against Orlando and followed that performance with his first career double-double in Game 2. In those two games, he went a combined 14-22 from the field (63 percent), with 18 of those 22 shot attempts coming within 15ft of the basket. Extend things to the last three games, where Williams has been noticeably more focused on driving to the hoop, and we have seen him become far more confident playing in the paint. During the Bulls last three games, Williams shot 75 percent of his attempts inside the 14-foot range and converted at a 66 percent clip. Before these past three games, he was perfectly split in attempts inside and outside 15ft, with 69 inside that mark (34%) and 70 outside that mark (45%).
I know this is the kind of shift we should see as he moves over to the four, but it’s encouraging that he continues to demonstrate an ability to score at an efficient rate while playing this position. And I say continue because Williams actually has played more minutes at PF this season than it may seem.
According to Cleaning the Glass, 52 percent of Williams’ minutes have been clocked at PF, and he currently has a 63.9 percent effective field goal percentage in those minutes (84th percentile) compared to a 48.4 percent effective field goal percentage when playing at the wing (33rd percentile). Considering we’re dealing with a somewhat small sample size, I don’t think we should read too heavily into these numbers, but I think it’s something worth pointing out as we (presumably) look toward more minutes with him at PF in the coming weeks. I think the only thing we can draw from this data is that, again, he clearly feels comfortable playing the position and playing more aggressively.
As for rebounding, in his past three games, Williams has hauled in a total of 24 rebounds, which is by far his most in a three-game span this season. With the team’s best rebounder on the sideline, along with their seven-footer, the Bulls will desperately need someone to help crash the glass. Williams has appeared adequate in that category over the past several games, which could only help make the case to play him closer to the rim.
All of this to say, what if Williams continues to succeed at PF in Markkanen’s absence? After all, many did believe from the jump that this would be his most productive position coming out of college. I know Markkanen has looked good in his 14 games played this season, but he is (1) headed for restricted free agency and (2) proving that he may be worthy of an “injury-prone” label. So, seriously, what if Williams’ breakout snowballs while filling in for Markkanen? Would the front office be more open to the idea of either moving The Finnisher or potentially not matching a high offer sheet this offseason? I think it’s fair a question, especially when we remember how invested this organization is in Williams’ success.
I do think this front office has an interest in keeping the versatile Williams at the wing and moving forward with Markkanen longer-term, however, I also think how Williams performs over the next couple of weeks could impact how they see things moving forward. We’ll see.