Bulls Issue Challenge to Former Top-10 Pick

Chicago Bulls

Getty Head coach Billy Donovan of the Chicago Bulls looks on from the sideline.

In a victory over a wayward opponent, the Chicago Bulls got just what they wanted out of third-year forward Patrick Williams. They also got a solid 108-99 win over the Brooklyn Nets who fired head coach Steve Nash mere hours before.

But it is Williams’ effort that surely will stick with a coaching staff that has run the gamut of strategies to jumpstart his usually humming motor.

Williams finished the win with 12 points on 50% shooting and seven rebounds.

He also notched a pair of blocks, one assist, and one steal but most importantly was a noticeable presence whenever he was on the floor. And, as his head coach Billy Donovan pointed out, they didn’t do anything different to get him going leading to a challenge being levied at Williams.

Donovan Challenges Williams

“He has to make a decision that this is the kind of player that I want to be,” Donovan said, “that I know I can be. It’s not like we’re putting him in a box and saying, ‘Hey, your job is to play defense and pass the ball to people.’ He has to take advantage of his opportunities.” (h/t K.C. Johnson/NBC Sports Chicago)

Donovan noted that what Williams showed against the Nets was just what he has been searching for from a player the Bulls have a lot invested in.

Their offseason philosophy was crafted in part around his expected progression this season.

Up until what has now become a four-game trend, Williams was off to quite the disappointing start to the season averaging just 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds. He was also not entrusted to close out games.

Ever since then, he is averaging 10.3 points, 3.0 boards, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 assists shooting 55.6% from the floor and 40% from beyond the arc.

He still is not closing out games but this stretch is a tremendous start.

If there is one criticism of Williams in this contest, it is that he had just four points after halftime, though he still made an impact.

Williams Calming Concerns

This turnaround from Williams could not have come at a better time. Not only was he struggling, but the Bulls were as well showing similar weak points as last season when they started hot but faded down the stretch.

Beating a Brooklyn team in turmoil might not signal a turnaround but it bodes well for Williams and the Bulls.

“No doubt they are [worrie about him],” an Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports’ NBA insider Sean Deveny. “They have a lot invested in him, he was the No. 4 pick in that (2020) draft and a lot of people felt like that was a reach. But that was the first pick for Arturas Karnisovas so they are invested in making sure he succeeds. He was untouchable on the trade market this summer, that is how much they think of him.”

The Bulls had reported opportunities to flip Williams for players such as Jerami Grant and Rudy Gobert – the latter of whom took an unsightly amount of capital from the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire.

Whether or not they made the right choice depends on Williams being at least as good as Grant and close to as impactful as Gobert.

It’s not a matter of talent.

“Physically, he has the tools to be a pretty effective 4-man,” the exec continues, “he can be versatile, he can guard a few different positions, he is athletic.”

What Is Williams?

All of that is true enough. But Williams has opened up about being too wrapped up in the mental aspect of the game. It has often manifested as him just becoming a fixture in the corner awaiting a look from one of the Bulls’ Big Three of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic.

The Bulls do not need him to be an equal of those three – he does need to come close, though.

“He looks lost,” the exec said. “He looks like a guy who does not know where he fits in…He’s taking too many 3s. I’d be worried about his defense, too, because he was supposed to be a strong 3-and-D guy and it looked like he would be when he was a rookie. But his defense has faded an awful lot, he is not intense and engaged the way he was three years ago. “

To the exec’s point, Williams is allowing the most points per 100 possessions of his career, per Cleaning The Glass – he does guard to other team’s top option, after all.

But if what he has shown of late is a sign of things to come, that should turn around soon.

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