The Chicago Bulls have made it official and announced their starting lineup heading into the 2022-23 season. It did not come without some level of surprise as head coach Billy Donovan named Patrick Williams as the starting power forward.
There was some debate over whether or not that would be the case after Donovan started forwards Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. while experimenting with lineups.
Green started in Williams’ absence last season and appeared to have secured the job.
But his strong preseason has resulted in his coming off of the bench, at least for now, which led to some obvious questions for Donovan in a critical season for both him and the Bulls. Just not who will take the floor first on the road against the Miami Heat in the regular-season opener on October 19.
Donovan Will Mix-n-Match
“I’m not that wrapped up in the starting part as much as how we’re subbing off the bench,” Donovan told reporters after practice a day before the opener. “It could be a situation where Patrick plays and we stagger him into the second unit and we get Javonte out there with the first unit.” (h/t Rob Schaefer/NBC Sports Chicago)
Green was very impressive during the preseason ranking second on the team averaging 15 points on 71.4% shooting while hitting 66.7% of his triples with 5.0 rebounds.
But he also proved to be effective regardless of whether he started or came off of the bench.
Williams averaged 11 points on 42.1% shooting and hit 33.3% of his threes during the preseason and it wasn’t until he played without either of the Bulls’ star wings, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, in the starting lineup.
He scored 22 points in that game with his only other double-digit scoring outing being an 11-point showing off the bench in the Bulls’ second preseason game.
“I just want Patrick to be himself,” said Donovan. “I think he’s an important ingredient to our team. I think he can really, really help us. There’s also parts of Patrick where we even get him staggered into the second unit some.”
Donovan has previously noted that Williams is not wired to be concerned about starting or not.
Williams said that he was all for Green drawing the start in the preseason, perhaps, due to his coach saying early on that he was trying to find which combinations of players worked best.
Bulls Need This to Work
Donovan will need to be creative with Lonzo Ball expected to be out to begin the season. But Williams taking the next step was one of the subplots to an offseason that featured little in the way of outside additions.
Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas touted continuity in the face of sweeping changes around the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Williams’ development is a big part of that.
“Karnisovas…put a lot of stock into Patrick Williams,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on “The Hoop Collective” podcast. “If Patrick Williams comes out this year and is a two-way monster, then we may have a different discussion…But I don’t feel great about the Bulls right now. Stock is down.”
It is notable that Donovan mentioned Williams potentially staggering into the second unit.
Green, for all that he brings to the table, is undersized for a power forward at 6-foot-4. The 6-foot-7 Williams makes sense alongside the defensively-deficient DeRozan, LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic.
Staggering then lets him break out his offensive repertoire with a reserve group built around energy and specialists.
The Bulls went ahead and picked up the fourth-year option for Williams so it’s not as though they planned on giving up on him. Even if Donovan had gone with Green – who was dealing with a hip pointer that caused him to miss practice on Monday – in the starting lineup.
But they do want to know what they have in him as the clock runs out.
They just decided against offering an extension for guard Coby White who will now head for restricted free agency next summer which could pose some interesting headaches.
With reports of their refusal to include Williams in several high-profile deals, the Bulls front office needs Williams to hit just as much as Donovan and Williams’ teammates do on the court. And as Williams does for himself.