When a baby takes those highly-anticipated first steps, they don’t wake up doing parkour around the house the next day.
When a child first learns to ride a bike, they aren’t popping a wheelie in a leather jacket moments later.
When an adult starts a new job, they don’t automatically know the best way to kiss up to their boss (Michael: A venti sweet cream cold brew from Starbucks will work just fine, Eli).
In other words, development takes time and it sure isn’t linear. The baby is still going to have his good days walking and his better days crawling. The child is going to fall off the bike a few times too many. And the adult is going to say something positive about Arsenal when the boss’ favorite team is Tottenham. That’s just how things work.
All we can do is hope that these positive moments are a sign of growth and what is to come. And that’s the exact way we have to view what Patrick Williams did on Wednesday night.
The 21-year-old put together his best performance of the season with a team-high 22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals in a much-needed win over the Brooklyn Nets. If you washed away everything you knew about Williams heading into that game, you would have easily thought he was one of the most talented players on the floor. And that’s got to be worth something, right?
Look, I know we’ve been down this road before with Williams. He’s made his fair share of jaw-dropping dunks and drool-inducing blocks, but these highlight plays have usually been followed by the kind of quiet performances that would even irritate a mime. The consistency just hasn’t been there, and Williams does deserve to be criticized for that.
But, again, this isn’t a linear process (*points to what Lauri Markkanen is doing in Year 6*). We can’t just throw out games like the one we saw earlier this week, especially given the context. First of all, he deserves credit for bouncing back from his critical blunder against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he failed to box out Donovan Mitchell on the game-tying layup off the missed free throw. Williams took full responsibility for that error even after the NBA came out and said Mitchell committed a lane violation, and he made up for it with this performance two nights later.
Secondly, Williams didn’t do this against a Minnesota Timberwolves team benching practically all their starters. Unlike last year’s season-high, this came against a star-studded Brooklyn Nets team that had won 12 straight games and possessed a top-10 defense. I have little doubt that the old Patrick Williams would have deferred to his All-Star-caliber teammates with that level of competition on the opposite side of the ball. The new Patrick Williams, however, ran with the opportunity.
This brings me to my next point: I think that performance may have been the most comfortable I’ve seen Williams look on a basketball court. The most explicit sign of that may have been his willingness to let it fly behind the arc. On each of his four attempts from long range, Williams almost immediately entered his shooting motion. He did briefly pass up one open look to send to Vucevic, but it was an extra pass that made plenty of sense. Not to mention, when the big man passed the rock instantly back to him in the corner, Williams chucked it up.
I have to imagine some of this confidence stems from shooting 41.1 percent from long range, which I’m not sure is talked about enough. The youngster is easily one of the team’s best long-range threats, and there is a legitimate case to be made that his attempts should spike in the coming months.
But, fine, if you think the volume is part of the success, I get that. What I don’t think we can deny should see an uptick, however, is Williams’ free throw attempts. He had a perfect 7-7 showing against the Nets, displaying a level of downhill aggressiveness that we’ve been waiting to see become a greater part of his game. Williams’ has a monstrous frame and an untapped level of physicality that can, theoretically, give any team trouble. The hope is that finding this success against Brooklyn can help show him just that.
If one thing is for sure, I feel like he’s started to understand what a more assertive mindset can do on the glass. After starting the season as a non-factor in the rebounding department, Williams is averaging 5.4 rebounds a game over the past eight contests. I know this might not feel like a whole lot, but it is roughly two more rebounds per game than what he was averaging over the previous 30 games. And that’s not nothing for a Bulls team that has sat bottom 10 in REB% for much of the year.
Likewise, his recognition to take a smaller Curry off the dribble, quick decision to find the open space for the slam, and well-positioned slip to the basket to set himself up for the interior feed isn’t nothing. They’re all little moments that need to happen for Williams to get to where he wants to be. And I just hope there are a lot more of these moments in the coming weeks.