Just five games into the 2021-2022 season, the Chicago Bulls can’t stay out of the NBA spotlight, whether for better or for worse.
After climbing to an early Eastern Conference-leading 4-0 record, they suffered their first loss of the season to the New York Knicks, with DeMar DeRozan’s game-winning shot falling well short.
Then the following morning, Chicago was hit with news that made the loss sting twofold, with season-long repercussions.
Second-year forward Patrick Williams is set to miss the rest of the season with a dislocated left wrist, suffered in that same 104-103 loss to the Knicks on October 28.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was first with reports:
Williams was coming off of a standout rookie season, where he averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
This hit will open up a spot in the Chicago Bulls’ starting five, where Patrick Williams once manned small forward.
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Donovan, Vucevic Talk Williams Loss
After practice on Friday morning, center Nikola Vucevic spoke on (via NBC Sports) the Patrick Williams news:
He has put a lot of work in over the summer. He really worked on his game and body and really came in motivated. To miss significant time is hard, especially for a young player. You want to establish yourself in this league. To get that taken away from you, it’s very difficult to deal with. We’re going to be there to support him and stay with him. Obviously, he’s a huge part of this team and the future of this team.
The last line is the most important there, with Williams often viewed as the building block of this Chicago Bulls franchise, both now and after guys like Vucevic are gone.
All-Star guard Zach LaVine made sure to send his teammate well wishes via his Instagram story as well:
As far as how they’ll move forward, don’t be surprised to see head coach Billy Donovan roll out more small-ball lineups, as he alluded to after the injury was reported:
It’s going to be a challenge; there’s no question about it. We’re a little bit smaller at that position. And we’ve played smaller there. And really to be honest, outside of Javonte and Patrick, the next guy at the position is either Lonzo or Alex, which I’ve elected to do and I like when those guys are out there and they’re tough and they’ve handled themselves well. We have got hurt rebounding-wise.
The biggest area of need in light of Williams’ absence will be on the defensive end, where he’d made significant strides, earning comparisons to two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard.
Perhaps that calls for Alex Caruso to step up, and provide the starting five with that extra punch on defense.
Caruso Making an Early Impact
Few players that switched teams this offseason have had a greater immediate impact than Alex Caruso.
Previously with the Los Angeles Lakers, he landed with the Chicago Bulls on a four-year/$37-million deal this summer.
So far, the sixth man is averaging 8.4 points, 3.6 assists, 3.0 steals, and 1.6 rebounds per game off the bench.
According to NBA.com’s stats page, Caruso’s steals per game average currently leads the league through five games.
But he could be in for a role change if head coach Billy Donovan elects to go small with Patrick Williams sidelined.
Still, there’s enough argument to keep Caruso on the bench, where he’s helped to lead one of the best second units in the entire NBA thus far, and compensate for Williams’ absence elsewhere.
Chicago’s bench currently ranks top-10 in both blocks and steals per game, and leads the league in turnovers per game, per NBA.com.
But however the Chicago Bulls’ head coach elects to move forward following the loss of Patrick Williams will hold implications for the whole team, not just the bench.
It seems their highly-anticipated season has just hit its first obstacle.