The Chicago Bulls didn’t do much in the way of adding outside talent this offseason. That means it’s all on their guys to make the necessary improvements to keep up with the Joneses in an Eastern Conference that certainly did not rest on its laurels.
Further complicating matters is the continued absence of starting point guard Lonzo Ball due to an injury for which he will have a second procedure in the coming days.
With him sidelined, all of the attention has turned to questions of how they can fill the void left behind by Ball’s absence – a conversation that is usually littered with the names of the rest of the guard rotation. But we may be overlooking a fairly obvious answer for what is perhaps not a 1-for-1 replacement but is likely the Bulls’ best bet to do so.
That is, of course, Patrick Williams, who is being called upon to “level up” this season.
Patrick Williams Remains an Enigma
“The Bulls still don’t know what they have in Patrick Williams as he enters his third pro season,” writes Ricky O’Donnell for SB Nation. “After an extremely quiet offseason, Chicago is banking heavily on Williams making big improvements if they want to keep pace in a loaded Eastern Conference.”
O’Donnell lists Williams along with eight other NBA players that he says have the most to prove next season. It is no secret that a lot of pressure is on Williams this year; perhaps unfairly in many ways.
“A 6’7, 215-pound forward, Williams has had some impressive moments on both ends of the floor in his young career, but has never made a consistent impact.”
The former fourth-overall pick in 2020, Williams has played in just 88 regular season games.
His archetypal physical stature and tantalizing skill set are also duly noted. But, to O’Donnell’s point, Williams’ impact has been oversold in many ways. And that might be a good thing as he heads into that pivotal third pro season. If he’s been impressive in spurts now, he should be even more so when he puts it all together.
Williams’ Struggle With Expectations
Williams posted the second-worst efficiency differential among the Bulls’ rotation last season while appearing in just 17 regular-season games due to a freak wrist injury. His 72-appearance rookie season belies some of the injury concerns that linger following the wrist and a missed training camp in his first year.
There is some thought that he could struggle to meet expectations again this season.
He has acknowledged that he needs to be more assertive on offense. It’s not just on him, though.
As a young player – Williams just turned 21 years old on August 26 – on a team headlined by veteran scorers he needs help finding his way. O’Donnell says that is where Williams and Bulls head coach Billy Donovan must work together.
“At his best, Williams can create with the ball in his hands on offense, and provide legitimate supplemental rim protection defensively,” O’Donnell argues. “There’s only one problem: head coach Billy Donovan has primarily used him as a spot-up shooter around DeMar DeRozan’s midrange game, and Williams is too tentative when letting it fly from deep. It’s on Chicago’s coaching to get Williams the ball where he can succeed, but coming back with a more confident three-point shot would be a huge boon for his development.”
Williams Can “Replace” Ball
Again, there is no replacing Ball’s impact with one player. The Bulls proved that by amassing a plethora of options to fill in for him until he returns. But Williams can help similarly spread the floor.
He led the team shooting 51.7% from beyond the arc albeit on a modest 3.4 attempts per game.
Williams’ confidence in his jumper could benefit from a faster release, though he does have a high-arcing shot.
It is Williams’ playmaking ability that is most intriguing.
He seemed quite comfortable with the ball in his hands a lot in the Bulls’ regular-season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves. And he further teased his potential averaging over 21 points over the Bulls’ final two playoff games including dropping 20-points and 10 rebounds in Game 4.
Williams easily provides the most upside for the Bulls if everything falls into place. Even more than if Ayo Dosunmu progresses similarly to last season given all of Williams’ tools.