The second half of the NBA season has been less-than-kind to rookie Patrick Williams. The 19-year-old did notch a career-high 23 points against the Toronto Raptors back on March 14th in Chicago’s dominant 23-point victory. Since then, however, he’s averaged just 7.6 points with 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He’s also taking just 6.5 shots per game despite shooting a solid 49.0 percent from the field.
Monday night’s victory over the Miami Heat marked Williams’ 5th-straight game in single-digits and his 10th in the last 11 games. The Bulls have still been able to see results from him on the defensive end and on the glass, but there is no question he has taken a pretty significant back seat in recent weeks. All things considered, that isn’t necessarily the ideal late-season outcome for a normal No. 4-overall pick. But, fortunately, Williams isn’t normal.
Whether he perfectly identifies the cutting lane, bodies a dude on his way to the basket, sinks a smooth mid-range floater, pokes the ball away from a guard, or effortlessly soars for the easy dunk, it’s not hard to see Williams’ upside. He is also the second-youngest player in the NBA, as well as one of only two lottery picks to have started every single game he’s appeared in (the other being Cleveland’s Isaac Okoro). His intangibles on the defensive end and NBA-ready frame have made his transition to the NBA floor easy. And while he may not have had a massive immediate impact, he has rarely hurt the team when on the court. Many rookies can’t say the same.
All of this is why head coach Billy Donovan and Zach LaVine have expressed zero concern about Williams’ potential, and it’s why some of the top NBA analysts have recently done the same. The Athletic did a 2020 NBA redraft, and Sam Vecenie kept The Paw planted as the No. 4 pick despite his underwhelming box score. He too turned to the many flashes we’ve seen this season in his reasoning, and he also made sure to mention that a less than explosive start to his career was an expected outcome due to his age.
These player types tend to develop a bit more slowly, then you blink and they’ve put it all together. I think he could actually stand to thin out a bit and get into better shape, and hopefully add a bit more quickness. But this is the player type that everyone is looking for across the league. Even if he ends up being something approximating Harrison Barnes — which is probably the most likely outcome — that’s a win. But I think there is real upside even beyond that if the tools really come together, in a way that I just don’t quite see for Haliburton.
For Vecenie’s complete note, make sure you go check it out here.
Vecenie is right, Williams is the kind of player every team wants in today’s NBA. It’s why he skyrocketed up draft boards in November, it’s why there were rumors that teams were already calling about him at the trade deadline (which the Bulls front office, obviously, didn’t entertain), and it’s why he remains toward the top of this draft class. Elite-sized, versatile wings who can guard multiple positions, pass on the move, and hit a mean pull-up can dominate in today’s perimeter-centric league.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz also remains just as high as even on Williams’ future. The draft analyst recently evaluated this season’s rookie’s by future potential with Kevin Pelton, and he compared William’s possible rise to that of the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown (which is also something I’ve done before … copier!). He also ranked him 4th behind LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and Tyrese Haliburton on his “Top 10 Rookies By Future Potential” List.
Although he hasn’t been quite as productive in April, you could argue that Williams — one of the youngest players in the NBA — is already ahead of schedule. He’s knocking down 38% of his 3s this season and has the powerful frame and length to hang with elite wings like Tatum, James and Kawhi Leonard in the mid-post. He also has more shot creation potential than most players in his mold given his mid-range game, handle and footwork. With his youth, tools, improved shooting and the fact that he plays a position every NBA team is looking for, I like Williams’ combination of floor and upside.
I don’t necessarily think Bulls fans have worried too much about Williams’ long-term potential this season, but it’s still nice to see this reassurance on a national stage. The guy still has one hell of a high ceiling and knowing that should make the waiting game that much easier.