The Chicago Bulls are quickly reaching a crossroads with forward Patrick Williams. An offseason of hype by default – the Bulls’ quiet offseason left Williams as the best hope for significant improvement – was met with an up-and-down preseason. Williams finished the exhibition slate averaging 11 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists.
He started both the preseason opener and the finale, saving his best performance for the latter with 22 points, five assists, five boards, and one steal against the Milwaukee Bucks. But the feat came under very specific circumstances.
There is still some question as to whom will be the starting power forward on opening night. But head coach Billy Donovan was clear that won’t necessarily determine the entire season.
But Williams will have to get out of his own head if he wants to lock that spot down.
Williams Shines Without Stars
For as great as Williams’ outburst was, it still came with the caveat of both DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine sitting out to rest. It also came against a Bucks squad that was resting all three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton along with several of their top reserves.
It was very reminiscent of Williams’ performance in the regular-season finale last year when he dropped 35 points, four assists, and four rebounds with one block against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But, in the other three games this preseason in which DeRozan and LaVine were active, Williams averaged 7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.0 assists while shooting 33.3% from the floor.
He did knock down over 42% of his triples, though he revealed he is still fighting himself most.
“I try not to really think too much,” Williams told media after the win over Milwaukee. “I think when I think a lot out there is kind of when I don’t play too well. I kind of overthink the little things of the game that just comes natural to us. So just kind of going out there and playing off instinct.” (h/t Cody Westerlund/670 The Score)
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has spoken of wanting Williams to be able to move on from a poor possession of performance quicker.
A similar issue affected Wendell Carter Jr. and he was eventually shipped out.
The Bulls are nowhere close to that with Williams but Donovan’s tone and rhetoric when discussing the youngster have been much more demanding than the hope it had been before this season.
“The aggressiveness part wasn’t always about him putting the ball on the floor or shooting jump shots,” Donovan said offering further insight. “It was screen-and-rolls to the basket. It was quick post-ups and we found him. It was getting on the offensive glass. He got out in transition.” (h/t K.C. Johnson/NBC Sports Chicago)
For what it’s worth, Williams averaged 3.5 more attempts this preseason than he did in the regular season last year.
But, to Donovan’s point, he has to be more decisive even next to DeRozan and LaVine.
Williams’ Performance as Confirmation
Donovan’s mention of the starting power forward position could be taken in multiple ways. On one hand, it could mean that Javonte Green has won the job with his consistently strong performance regardless of starting or coming off of the bench. And that Williams could still play his way back into a role that was presumed his until the preseason games took place.
On the other hand, it could mean that Williams will get the first crack at the job but that his grasp on it is tenuous at best. Donovan also said that matchups could factor into the decision on a nightly basis.
The Bulls came into the season looking to create more “randomness” in their offensive attack.
It might seem like a setback to have Williams coming off of the bench and, organizationally that may very well be true given all they have riding on him this season.
But if this is what it takes to unlock the best version of Williams, then so be it. Their bench could use the scoring punch and it simplifies things from a coaching standpoint. They can figure the rest out later. Perhaps Donvan’s experimentation was meant to light a fire under the naturally passive Williams.
We will see if he is successful on opening night regardless of whether or not Williams starts.