Will the Patrick Williams We Saw in the Preseason Finale Stick Around?

Patrick Williams did nothing special in the Chicago Bulls’ final preseason game. But that’s what made it his best performance yet.

Back in the starting lineup after playing the team’s second and third preseason games off the bench, Williams took what the Milwaukee Bucks gave him. He got ahead of the defense in transition, kept his feet moving in the half-court, cut hard to the rim when he found the open floor, and rolled strong off-screens at the top of the key. Don’t get me wrong, his five dunks were worthy of a spot on the highlight reel, but the work that went into making them happen was unremarkable at best.

As Bulls commentator Stacey King likes to say, it’s a simple game. Williams didn’t have to nail contested jumpers or bulldoze big men in the paint to score his 22 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. And he doesn’t have to do those things to begin meeting the high expectations this organization has set for him.

“It was screens and rolls to the basket. It was quick post-ups we found. It was getting to the offensive glass, [and] he got out in transition. He got a lot of things into the game, and I think those are the thing he has to continue to learn,” Donovan told reporters after the game.

“I think for a young player when you say ‘be aggressive’ they think when the ball in my hand I got to go be aggressive. But, you know, he ran the lane really well today, we got it out to him in transition a few times, he got to the glass and rebounded … if he does those things, that’s the aggressive things we need.”

Williams has all the physical tools to be a true difference-maker in today’s NBA. The apparent problem has been getting him to understand how to use those tools, especially when paired alongside his All-Star-caliber teammates.

Williams’ opportunities to find the ball in his hands are obviously going to go down in the starting lineup. And they should. For a Bulls team hoping to win now, they need Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic to be their top-3 game managers. What Williams must understand, however, is that there is still a lot of room to make an impact, specifically in the ways he did on Tuesday night.

Indeed, there isn’t any reason that Williams can’t do what he did against the Bucks in the Bulls’ starting lineup or standard rotation. He can set a screen on smaller guards for Zach LaVine or Ayo Dosunmu, he can dive to the rim to help give Nikola Vucevic the easy dish off, and he can outrun his more traditionally-sized defenders in transition. In fact, if anything, making an impact on the offensive end should be that much easier playing with the team’s best talent. A more distracted defense means an even more open floor.

The question now is when will Williams get the opportunity to prove that he can have a similarly productive game with the starting lineup? After Billy Donovan moved him to the bench in the preseason, and Javonte Green looked more than comfortable starting power forward, Williams’ spot in the rotation appears up for grabs. Was his one aggressive performance enough to earn put him back where he belongs? Or will Donovan want to see a level of consistency in the second unit before he puts him back with the starters?

If one thing is for sure, it sounds like he understands that playing the simple way is also playing the right way:

“I try not to really think too much, I think when I think a lot out there is kind of when I don’t play too well, Williams told 670 The Score’s Cody Westerlund. “I kind of overthink the little things of the game that just come natural to us. So just kind of going out there and playing off instinct.”

Whether it comes in the first unit or off the bench, let’s hope Williams relies on those instincts when the Bulls tip off their season in Miami on Oct. 19.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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