Spoiler Alert: Patrick Williams will not be rookie of the year. In fact, his candidacy for an All-Rookie Team bid is currently flimsy, at best. Yet, he’s still undoubtedly one of the top prospects from the 2020 draft.
Plenty of analysts have already tabbed Williams as a worthy No. 4-overall pick in early redrafts. Meanwhile, his head coach and teammates have shared nothing but “sky’s the limit” type reviews toward the end of this season. Even Williams knows after a freshman campaign where he averaged a rather mortal 9.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game that he has a body and raw talent that is ready to breakout.
His mind, on the other hand, has to catch up.
“I really think I could be as good as I want to be,” Williams told reporters at his end-of-season press conference. “I think have the talent to be as good as I want to be. The size, the athleticism, I pretty much have it all. For me, it’s more mental if anything. I have to learn how to control my mental and really dial in 100 percent mentally. I think that will make me the player I want to be and need to be.”
The top players in this league are accompanied by confident (oftentimes, hard-headed) mindsets. Learning how to be confident and aggressive on both ends of the floor can be one of the toughest skills to add, especially as the second-youngest player in the NBA. We saw Williams hesitate time and again with the ball in his hands this season. He would either overthink an open look, step into a traveling violation, or do whatever he could to give the ball to somebody else. Those who watched his big-time dunks or smart live-dribble passes or impressive mid-range jumpers could not help but express frustration. We could see all the flashes of a special player, and the next (pivotal) step in Williams’ development is getting him to see that too.
“He is just one of those guys, like, he has so many physical tools that it’s just all natural to him, and I think that’s the fun part about having someone like Pat,” Young said at his end-of-season press conference. “And that’s I think what’s going to make him into a monster because he is doing stuff now that he is already physically gifted to do and when he gets that killer mindset in him, it’s going to be trouble for a lot of people.”
The first step in adding that killer mindset is acknowledging you need it. Williams not only did that after the fact, but he did it during the season as well. The rookie was not shy about telling the media that hunting shots and playing a more aggressive brand of basketball were things he has to add to his approach:
“That’s a thing I have to work on to get it natural, to make it natural, to be that naturally aggressive player that everybody wants me to be and that everybody sees that I can be. But it’s definitely not natural to me, and that’s been a focal point of my progression over this season,” Williams said after a 19-point performance against the Hawks on May 1st.
After being the ideal role player in college as the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, and immediately playing alongside two All-Stars in his first season, I don’t think it should come as a surprise that Williams struggled to move into the front seat. Making that mental adjustment comes with time and opportunity. A player so new has to see it to believe it, and I can’t help but think that is why we saw Williams as a mainstay in the starting lineup this season.
Williams started more games than any other rookie in 2020-21. Anthony Edwards was also the only other player to appear in more games total (Edwards played in 72, while Williams played in 71). The Bulls not only wanted to give Williams valuable experience against the league’s best, but they wanted to show him what he is worth. As Williams begins to evaluate his first season and hone his craft with his first real offseason, I have to imagine he will realize that. Or, at least, I hope.