Patrick Williams is 19 years old and, for the Chicago Bulls, that is most important thing to remember. Despite his tender age—he is, after all, a rookie—Williams has been given some major defensive assignments in the past two weeks. He guarded reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on January 1, then had LeBron James last week.
In the Bulls’ last game, it was Clippers star Kawhi Leonard. While each of those stars got their points against Williams—the three combined to score 44 points on 18-for-30 shooting while guarded by Williams, according to NBA data—Williams had some good moments in those games himself.
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Against Leonard last Sunday, Williams scored a season-high 17 points.
What’s remarkable, though, is the fearlessness Williams has shown in taking on top-level defensive assignments. As he gains experience, the numbers his foes post against him are going to drop.
As Bulls star Zach LaVine said, according to Bulls.com, “Coach says, ‘All right, you got LeBron today or you got Giannis. He’s like, ‘OK.’ You don’t see any shyness or laughing about it. It’s like, ‘OK.’ His demeanor isn’t something to back down from anybody. Get too high or too low, he just answers the call.”
Patrick Williams: Kawhi Leonard 2.0?
Williams does not get star-struck, even going up against Leonard, the player he credits for molding his own game. It’s certainly what the Bulls have in mind for Williams—a perimeter defensive stopper who can gradually build a steady offensive game, from the post out to the perimeter.
As a rookie in San Antonio, Leonard averaged 7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 49.3% shooting and 37.6% 3-point shooting. Through 11 games with the Bulls, Williams is averaging 10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 47.2% shooting and 45.8% 3-point shooting.
“I definitely see the potential I have to be a player like (Kawhi)… I talk a lot about being a two-way player and he’s the model of a great two-way player.” -Patrick Williams
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 15, 2021
“I definitely see the potential that I have to be a player like him,” Williams said of Leonard. “A two-way player that can get stops and then also be a reliable offensive talent. I talk a lot about being a two-way player and he’s kinda the model of a great two-way player. So I definitely look up to him and his game and it was just a blessing to be out there and play against him.”
Before the draft, Williams was compared to a number of players—Paul Millsap, Marvin Williams, OG Anunoby—but those who linked him to Leonard were careful to tamp down the comparison. One article on The Ringer called him the, “poor man’s Kawhi Leonard.”
Williams, though, is showing that he is a notch above a poor man’s version of Leonard. Maybe a middle-class version.
Patrick Williams After Facing the Best: ‘I Got Better As a Player’
The good news for Williams is that the Bulls won’t face another monster perimeter player on Friday night against the Thunder. But it will be back into the fire for Williams on Sunday, when the Bulls get the Mavericks and Luka Doncic. Five days later, it will be James again.
Williams, though, insists he is up for it. In fact, last time he faced James, he came out with the right perspective—going against arguably the greatest of all time made him improve.
Asked LeBron James his impressions of Bulls rookie Patrick Williams:
"Long arms. He has Kawhi-type hands that I noticed out on the floor, so I knew I couldn’t play with the ball much. You could tell he’s laser sharp on just trying to get better…. Chicago has a good one."
— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) January 9, 2021
“I can’t really say much, except I got better,” Williams said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “I got better as a defender, as a player. Just being around him, watching him, guarding him, I got better. In the 10th game of the season, that’s all you can ask for.
“I took on the challenge. I mean, he is LeBron James, so he’s going to get his. He’s going to get to his spots. But you’ve just kind of got to make him take the tough ones, and he’s making the tough ones. So I got better.”
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