There Was So Much to Like About Patrick Williams' Return

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There Was So Much to Like About Patrick Williams’ Return

Chicago Bulls

Let me preface this post with a reminder to temper your expectations.

It is obviously wonderful to have Patrick Williams back on the court with the Bulls, but he’s still a 20-year-old, second-year player who missed 65 games this season. He’s also coming off the first significant injury of his career, and is playing with an entirely revamped roster. So, no, Williams isn’t necessarily going to be the difference between the Bulls winning and losing games the rest of the way … and that’s okay! While it’s helpful to have his raw talent and size available to plug into the frontcourt, our excitement has very little to do with his short-term value to this team. Instead, our focus remains on the future.

As the No. 4-overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Williams still has true star potential. And it’s that potential we were reminded of in his first game back.

For one, if I didn’t know better, I’m not sure I would’ve believed that Williams missed roughly five months of action based on his performance last night. In fact, he looked surprisingly fresh in his reduced minutes/role. From almost the second he checked in at the 5 minutes mark, I was impressed by the pep in his step. I guess I should have assumed as much considering he’s been able to maintain his conditioning throughout his rehab (benefits of an upper-body injury), but his movement was more calculated than we’re used to seeing.

“I actually thought he looked really good,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “He actually I thought had a couple great moves on the baseline. He got to the rim, he knocked down a rim, which was fine. But I thought he moved very well. That was my biggest thing. I just didn’t know how he would look moving just in an NBA game … I thought he looked really really good.”

Williams’ off-ball activity on offense was immediately noticeable. He looked far more comfortable and confident than I had envisioned, and he had several legitimately encouraging moments.

For example, during his freshman campaign, a lack of decisiveness was one of Williams biggest hurdles. Far too often, he was hesitant to pop the open-3 or attack an open lane with the ball in his hands. Summer League showed some real progress in this department, but he still struggled to have it immediately translate to the floor in his first five games this season. This time around, however, he wasn’t as reluctant to attack his spots.

After Coby White failed to find him on a strong cut to the rim, Williams got rewarded with an open look as he migrated to the corner at the end of the first. He got into his shot right away, unphased by the lengthy Scottie Barnes turning to close out. All things considered, it was one of the quickest triggers I’ve seen from him in that spot. We saw him play with a similar demeanor on a couple of other possessions, the most exciting of which came when he caught the feed from Ayo Dosunmu at the baseline, hit the jab-step, and flew past Precious Achiuwa for the easy finish at the rim.

Check out both plays in the first video below: 

Williams’ two-way potential stands taller than the Iron Giant. The ball-handling ability carried over from his early days as a point guard could become lethal when combined with his 6’8″ frame. Not to mention, we already know he has a tremendous lift on his mid-range jump shot that can help him convert over some of the toughest defenders. The rainbow three-ball has also already exceeded expectations in terms of efficiency.

For Williams to tap into all of this, though, it starts with improved confidence and awareness. He must pick and choose his spots accordingly and be comfortable enough to attack those spots. Williams discussed as much after the game, and it was encouraging to hear him recognize the need for a more aggressive offensive role to take advantage of the inevitable opportunities created by his three All-Star teammates:

“I kind of saw that through the film,” Williams said. “Teams early-on right before the All-Star break started to trap Zach, trap DeMar, we’ve seen it in every game since then. So just kind of tried to focus on that in the rehab process. Trying to focus on, when I do get it out of the pocket or Vooch kicks it to me or if it’s skipped to me, just trying to make quick decisions. I think that’s something that I focused on, Alex has focused on when he was out, I think it’s something Zo is focusing on as well. We know that in the playoffs that’s what’s going to happen.”

The other side of the ball has always been there for Williams. Even at 19-years-old, he came into the NBA ready to compete on defense. His impressive build helps, sure, but it’s also his natural instincts. Williams displayed great help defense at Florida State, and it translated to the next level (which was key last night for a struggling Chicago defense against Toronto).

Twice we watched Williams slide into the lane to swipe at the ball while Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam drove to the cup. While he didn’t poke the ball away, he did enough to disrupt each player’s motion, helping lead to a Vucevic block on one possession and a missed Siakam layup on the other.

In another situation, we watched both Tristan Thompson and Ayo Dosunmu end up on Siakam, leaving Khem Birch wide open for the feed at the free-throw line. Williams immediately sagged off his man to meet Birch at the moment he caught the ball, using his length to prevent the interior pass to Scottie Barnes. Birch was then forced to kick out to VanVleet, who missed the 3. The offensive rebound ricocheted back in his direction, and when he went to toss up another 3, Williams came flying from the paint for the closeout. Hard not to think it deterred his shot (you can see video of that above).

Williams’ best play of the night, however, combined his skills on both sides of the ball. He put an exclamation point on the Bulls’ explosive 3rd quarter with a great steal on former-teammate Thaddeus Young’s pass attempt. He angled himself perfectly between Siakam and Young along the perimeter, keeping one eye locked on Siakam and the other on Young. After corralling the ball out of the air, Williams immediately broke out in the fastbreak, outrunning Siakam and finishing on the other end with a smile.

Take a look: 

Be it scooping an offensive rebound on one end, positioning himself to prevent an offensive reset on the other, or literally everything else we just discussed, there were so many little encouraging moments from just one game. Again, there will be ugly possessions in the nights to come, but Williams needed just 19 minutes to remind everyone why he’s such an intriguing and important young player for this organization.

I look forward to seeing what he can do with an expanded workload over the next couple of weeks. Keep it up, Pat.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.