You want Patrick Williams to do more. I want Patrick Williams to do more. Hell, Patrick Williams probably wants Patrick Williams to do more.
The rookie’s quiet showing over the past month hasn’t exactly been what fans hoped to see out of him at this point in the season. Williams has scored fewer than 10 points in 13 of his last 15 games, and he has averaged only 6.0 shot attempts per game despite maintaining his spot in the starting lineup.
Williams’ inability to play a more consistently impactful role has been … frustrating, particularly when we consider the absence of Zach LaVine.
At the same time, it’s hard to worry. His head coach and teammates have continued to have his back, and it remains a lot to ask of the second-youngest player in the league to take on an “alpha-dog” mentality, especially with two All-Stars already on the roster. What Thaddeus Young had to say after Williams’ 19-point showing against the Hawks was a good reminder of where his development stands.
“I think he has a chance to be a really really good player in this league – a star-type player,” Young told reporters. “It’s just a matter of how bad he wants it, and I think he wants it. He goes out there each and every night and tries to have a high-compete level. Obviously, he’s going to have some ups and downs as a rookie, but I think he has done a hell of a job with just going out there on the fly with no summer league and just kind of being thrown out there in the mix.”
So while it’s important we remember Williams deserves more time, we also have to keep in mind that he’s still this front office’s priority. He was their first draft pick and their first major commitment. Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley even doubled down on his potential at the trade deadline. The acquisition of Nikola Vucevic put the team in win-soon mode, and Williams is undoubtedly a part of that win-soon plan.
The Bulls have to make sure Williams is comfortable sooner than later to achieve the success they crave, and there might be a reason to believe that can happen the more he plays power forward.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Williams has clocked 42 percent of his minutes at power forward this season. In those minutes, Williams’ effective field goal percentage sits at 57.2 percent (89th percentile) compared to his 52.2 percent at small forward (29th percentile). His overall efficiency differential may not be anything to celebrate, but his -4.3 at power forward is at least better than his -10.0 at small forward. And, by the way, I wouldn’t fault him for the negative totals. The Bulls starting lineup as a whole has been pretty dismal all season long, which definitely impacts that clip.
To be clear, Williams is capable of playing both forward positions. I also think it’s more than fair to prefer he stays at the three because of the positional size he provides. If he can learn to be a more consistent ballhandler and aggressive driver, staying at the wing could very well be the best option. However, what we’ve seen thus far suggests that Williams is more comfortable closer to the basket. One of his better stretches of the season also came when starting at the position in relief of Lauri Markkanen. He scored 20 points with 7 rebounds and 2 steals against the Magic on February 5th before following it up with his first career double-double on 16 points and 10 rebounds. Two games later we also saw him record 2 blocks, 2 steals, and 5 rebounds on a +7 performance against Zion Williamson.
Again, it’s not that Williams can not or should not play at the wing. I do think the Bulls still prefer to see what he can do at the position as such a raw prospect. The flip side of that is since he is such a raw talent, and the team is trying to win ASAP, prioritizing where he has found the most immediate success could be a conversation worth having. Also, it’s not like the opportunity isn’t there.
Lauri Markkanen’s days in Chicago appear to be numbered and Daniel Theis is headed toward unrestricted free agency (not to mention, Theis has traditionally played center anyway). The Bulls will also have to make a decision on Thaddeus Young. The veteran has played some of the best basketball of his career this season, but whether or not they could look to trade or move on from him this offseason is a worthwhile question. Not only is Young a little over one month away from turning 33-years-old, but he is also filling a roster spot that the front office could fill with their own hand-picked talent.
The point being, there is a world in the very near future where the Bulls find themselves with a hole at power forward, and deciding who should fill that role might actually be easier than expected.