Earlier in the summer, expectations for the Chicago Bulls to make another offseason splash were pretty high. Perhaps not to the extent of the trade to land DeMar DeRozan or even Lonzo Ball – though those kinds of hypotheticals were out there.
There was still an expectation for the Bulls to remain aggressive in pursuit of roster upgrades.
Instead, their bet was on themselves in the form of improved health and internal development. The poster child for both has become Patrick Williams.
Robbed of most of his sophomore season due to a broken wrist, Williams has also faced the added pressure of being a former top-five pick with an indeterminate future on a team with playoff aspirations. While so many call on him to take that next step in his development, some are still champions of patience when it comes to the 21-year-old.
Williams Facing Undue Pressure
For his part, Williams has owned up to the things he needs to do better to help this team in the ways it needs – a plus-defender and reliable fourth option on offense. Williams has done an okay job of the former.
He tends to “drift”, writes The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry, and that has to change for Williams and the Bulls to reach their peak.
He adds expecting Williams to be the biggest factor in a Bulls leap is “faulty” and “unfair”.
“Remember who’s on the roster. At best, Williams will be the fourth scoring option behind [Zach] LaVine, DeRozan, and [Nikola] Vučević. When Ball is healthy, Williams sometimes will have to defer to him too. Alex Caruso and Goran Dragic also will have more autonomy than Williams.
Having Williams behind DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic has always been the plan and a reason to lower expectations for a monster leap from Williams.
But, if he has to defer to Caruso and Dragic, the Bulls could be wasting their efforts.
“This is why rebuilding teams typically avoid surrounding promising young pieces with such talented veterans…There are too few opportunities to properly feature young players and allow them to round into form. The Bulls didn’t do Williams any favors by fast-tracking their reboot, yet everyone’s now eager for the third-year forward to transform and somehow shine as bright as his All-Star teammates. It’s a losing proposition for Williams.”
Williams Gives Bulls Roster Flexibility
The notion that Williams is injury prone is to be determined at best. His broken wrist was the result of a hard foul at the hands of New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson. It could have happened to anyone. Caruso suffered a similar injury also as the result of a borderline egregious foul.
Williams started 71 games as a rookie and, even though his three-point efficiency didn’t mirror the 51.7% he shot this past season, he still connected on a respectable 39.1%.
It is also important to remember the contract statuses of those talented veterans Mayberry mentioned. Only three of them are signed beyond the 2024 season – Ball has a player option, Caruso’s contract is partially guaranteed, and LaVine signed a $215 max deal this summer.
“The fascinating thing to me about the Bulls,” began Ti Windisch during the “NBA Podcast” with Byran Toporek, “is they’re kind of a team stuck in two timelines…I think you need to be rational and say, you know, we can’t give up all of our young pieces for two seasons of DeRozan/Vucevic…I think that would be short-sighted.”
Teammates Must Take Pressure Off of Williams
Williams does not top Mayberry’s list of Bulls players with the most to prove this season, and for good reason. There are three players ahead of him in the pecking order and, thus, have far more responsibility in determining how far this team can go.
It is very similar to the situation with Ball.
Williams missed so much time that, at some point, the onus has to be on the other healthy players to pick up the slack.
All three of the Bulls’ top stars have defensive concerns putting extra strain on Williams’ defense most nights. To Mayberry’s point, that sweet spot of filling the gaps is where the expectation needs to be for Williams.
He doesn’t have to carry the team he just has to be ready to step up.