The version of Patrick Williams we saw in Minnesota isn’t going to look like the version of Patrick Williams we’ll see against Milwaukee. But does it have to be? While I’d love nothing more than to watch Williams drop 35 points on the Bucks in the franchise’s first playoff series since the 2016-17 season (oh, oh, and posterize Giannis!), I’d put the odds at about +3000.
The volume of opportunities Williams saw on the floor against the Timberwolves will be nowhere in sight come the postseason. And understandably so. A battle with the reigning champions isn’t quite a battle against the resting T-Wolves, and Williams role will/should be diminished.
Once Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic return to the floor, Williams will resort back to role-player status. Indeed, a 20-year-old that missed 65 regular-season games is in no place to carry a substantial workload on a playoff-bound team. However, that doesn’t mean Williams can’t make an impact.
A reminder Patrick Williams is 20 years old.
35 points | 10-21 FG | 4 reb | 4 ast pic.twitter.com/ryp0YShZ7U
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 11, 2022
Slowly but surely, Williams has expressed the kind of confidence in recent games that we’ve been craving to see, particularly on the offensive end of the court. He finished a ridiculous poster jam on the Clippers Isaiah Hartenstein, shot 7-9 from the floor against the Bucks, and fought his way to the free-throw line for six attempts against the Hornets. This improving aggressiveness culminated in last night’s career-high performance, where Williams looked more in his element than ever before.
“I think I just feel a little bit more comfortable out there,” Williams told reporters after the game. “I’m not sure if it’s just watching film or watching the game for being out so long, but I kind of see things a little better.”
Williams’ 35-point effort marked the fifth time in six contests that he’s cracked double-figures, and three of those games have been outings with 15+ points. His newfound comfort level arguably couldn’t be coming at a better time for Chicago, and the Bulls can only hope aspects of Sunday’s regular-season finale can carry into the postseason.
A look at Williams’ shot chart from last night is arguably all we need to see to know the role Williams should play in Round 1.
Williams’ recipe for an impactful playoffs is as simple as attacking the rim and shooting open 3s. While he has a midrange game with plenty of upside, those aren’t the shots the Bulls are going to need (nor want) Williams to take. Instead, he should be hunting high percentage looks any chance he gets, moving decisively with and without the ball, which he did at his highest level yet against Minnesota.
We watched Williams whip out a nice stop-and-go move on the dribble drive, cut hard to the basket for an easy finish, and wisely back down a smaller defender in the post. Not only did these feel like shots he can easily hunt in a normal rotation, but these felt like shots his team could seriously benefit from. The more pressure he is able to put at the rim with his athletic and imposing frame, the more the floor will open up for his All-Star teammates. Simple as that.
The Bulls need a version of the Patrick Williams we saw last night vs. MKE.
Whether it be a nice stop-and-go, a hard cut, or a smart post up on the smaller defender, Williams can pressure the rim.
The more decisive he is, the more things can open up for his All-Star teammates. pic.twitter.com/A5LCNRYd34
— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) April 11, 2022
As for Williams’ quick 3-point trigger that led to a 3-4 showing against the Timberwolves, the value that has to this Bulls team probably goes without saying. This is a unit that sat dead last in the regular season in attempts per game, and a percentage that sat 2nd-highest in the league before the All-Star break has sat just 21st since.
Williams has now shot 41.3 percent in his career with his high-arching 3-pointer, and he’s hit 12-23 since returning from his wrist injury on March 21st. The volume may not be anything to rave about, but that’s a promising clip from a player who could draw his fair share of catch-and-shoot opportunities as the Bucks collapse on a driving LaVine and trap a hungry DeRozan. Not to mention, Milwaukee happens to give up the most 3-point shot attempts per game, which is something the Bulls must take advantage of to force a competitive series.
So whether it be letting these shots fly with zero hesitation or putting his head down and establishing a presence in the paint, there is real room for Williams to help open up an offense that has sat just 25th over the final 23 games of the regular season.
“I feel confident enough to do it,” Williams said. “I’ve proven to myself, not only this game but previous games, even some last season, that when I am aggressive, I’m helping this team.
At the end of the day, I want to win. The guys in the locker room want to win. Anything I can do to help the team win. And from what I hear from the coaching staff and my teammates the last two years is that when I’m aggressive, I’m helping this team win.”
To be sure, Williams doesn’t even have to put the ball through the rim at an efficient rate to have a legitimate impact on this upcoming series. The mere willingness to play physical and assertive would provide this team with a presence they are desperately missing in the frontcourt, and head coach Billy Donovan spoke to the importance of that point on Monday night.
“I liked the fact that he didn’t get passive or didn’t get down on himself. He really just kept staying with it, and he maintained a level of aggressiveness … But he also has to understand that he’s going to have some nights that maybe the ball is not going into the basket, but that aggressive mentality is still beneficial to our team when he does that because he’s just another guy you have to guard,” Donovan told reporters.
I want to be very clear in saying that none of this should drastically raise our expectations for what Williams can accomplish against the Bucks. He’s still a second-year forward stepping into the first postseason of his career. Oh, and he’s likely going to have to guard a 2x MVP and reigning NBA champion. *Gulp.*
Expecting him to make or break this series for the Bulls probably isn’t fair to the player he is today. But it is more than fair to hope what we’ve seen click for Williams over the past few games can continue to click in his first taste of playoff basketball. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
35 points for THE PAW tonight! pic.twitter.com/deKhTpPy33
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 11, 2022