Each day since free agency stated, Patrick Williams’ shoulders have gotten heavier.
The Chicago Bulls have invested in two free-agent assets thus far – Andre Drummond and Goran Dragic. While both will provide a level of much-needed veteran experience to the bench, neither is the kind of big splash or high-impact addition we’ve seen this front office seek out in the past. Instead, it has become increasingly clear that Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley will cross their fingers for strong internal development (plus health). And you have to image their eyes are specifically locked on Williams.
Indeed, plenty of pressure is expected to fall on the shoulders of the regime’s first-ever draft selection next season. The hope will be that he can anchor the frontcourt defense while simultaneously tapping into the offensive skillset that helped him drop 35 points in the regular-season finale. It’s a tall ask, but the Bulls’ crumble last season showed how badly this roster still needs a two-way contributor who can make life that much easier for their All-Star trio. Whether it be hesitancy to trade him or the absence of a more significant roster addition, the Bulls have made it obvious that Williams has to be that contributor.
Is that too much pressure to put on a player who appeared in just 17 regular-season games last year? What about a player who will turn just 21 in August? On one hand, I worry about a win-now team asking too much too soon of an extremely high-upside youngster. On the other hand, you have to ask more of the No. 4-overall pick eventually … and I guess the Bulls believe now is that time.
If you ask Williams’ teammates, though, they seem confident he is ready to take that next step. Alex Caruso recently spoke about his teammates in an interview on the Bulls Talk Podcast, letting folks know Williams has the work ethic to become the player this team needs him to be:
“People forget that last year was his second year in the NBA … It takes time for players,” Caruso told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. “It’s getting adjusted to the pace, seeing what you can do. There is one thing I know about Pat, though, it’s that he works. He works hard on his game, he works hard on trying to get better. He’s a great teammate, and I think he’s going to figure out over the next year what he can really do and how he can compliment Vooch, DeMar, Zach, and really be a problem with fourth defenders, third defenders guarding him.”
As a brief aside: Caruso does bring up a critical point about the opportunity Williams will have in this starting lineup. Playing alongside three proven talents on the offensive end means he’s bound to face a matchup advantage on a handful of nights. With that being the case, we should hold Williams to a higher standard and expect him to lean into the perks derived from playing alongside three All-Stars.
Speaking of which, one of those All-Stars sounded like the veteran leader he is when asked about the responsibility that will fall on Williams’ plate.
“I think every player should try to take a next step. It’s not just Pat. Everybody on the team needs to take a step. You can’t just try to put [it on] one guy to take a step,” LaVine stressed when asked about Williams’ role. “Pat’s great. Pat’s going to continue to work on his game to get better and better. He’s out here right now in Vegas working out early in the morning. He’s been to California, he’s been to Chicago. Pat’s working on his game.”
Whether it be Caruso’s faith, LaVine’s older-brother-like protection, or DeMar DeRozan’s offseason guidance, it’s clear Williams has no lack of support inside the Bulls locker room. And I’d consider that reassuring with a highly-anticipated year ahead.
Let’s see what you got, Pat.