Hawks’ Rising Star Name-Dropped as Reference Point for Bulls, Patrick Williams

Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

Getty Patrick Williams #44 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls have a significant decision to make on fourth-year forward Patrick Williams either now, heading into the final year of his rookie contract while he is extension-eligible this offseason, or next summer when he is a restricted free agent.

What would Williams’ next deal look like?

“Patrick Williams made real major steps forward this year as a player,” affirmed Keith Smith on ‘The NBA Front Office Podcast’ on June 1. “I think you keep him, right? And then, the tricky part becomes where are we going after that, right? He’s extension eligible this summer. …I don’t know that I’d feel super uncomfortable with giving him a De’Andre Hunter-ish extension.”

Hunter re-upped with the Atlanta Hawks on a four-year, $90 million contract extension in October of 2022, just ahead of his fourth NBA season just as Williams is now.

Smith argued that Williams has shown as much as Hunter has to this point in his career. Neither player is a big rebounder or playmaker for others at this point. Williams is the better three-point shooter but both offer stout defense while Hunter is a better and more aggressive scorer.

But the most significant barrier between Williams and a contract like Hunter’s is consistency.

Hunter – the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft – averaged a career-best 15.4 points per game on 56.3% true shooting this past season but has been a double-digit scorer since he entered the league. His biggest issue had been durability with back-to-back injury-shortened campaigns in 2021 and 2022.

Hunter did make a career-high 67 appearances this past season, potentially eliminating that question from the list.

Selected with the No. 4 overall pick in 2020, Williams is under contract for $9.8 million next season after the Bulls picked up his option while his qualifying offer as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2024 will be $12.9 million, per Spotrac, barring a new contract.

That kind of investment usually screams rookie extension.

A Different Player Comparison for Patrick Williams

“While his inconsistency may prevent the Bulls from making an offer, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to lock him up now,” wrote Morten Jensen of Forbes on May 16. “Given the market of young, athletic, 3-&-D wings is fairly expensive, a deal worth $16-17 million per year would be a decent offer, given where he is as a player right now.”

That is quite a bit lower than the $22.5 million Hunter’s deal breaks down to annually.

But it is right in line with Jensen’s player comp for Williams: Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby who signed a four-year, $72 million extension in 2020.

After back-to-back seasons averaging single-digit points, Anunoby cracked the 10.0-point-per-game barrier and has since improved his scoring output to 16.8 points per game this past season while still knocking down 38.7% of his threes and providing solid defense.

Williams averaged 10.2 points this past season.

Nikola Vucevic Could Impact Patrick Williams’ Future

Williams’ contract is not even the Bulls’ most-pressing issue. That distinction goes to veteran center Nikola Vucevic who is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Despite both sides saying they are open to a new deal, and talks taking place, it remains a distinct possibility that Vucevic doesn’t re-sign this offseason.

He has already entertained the idea of playing elsewhere next season saying he will explore his options in free agency.

“The challenge here becomes what kind of extension are we talking about,” Smith asks before answering. “Anything that’s more than two years in length, I’m probably not overly interested in…But if I can get him for two years – even two years at 20-ish million a piece – I don’t have a huge issue with that.”

Smith noted that Vucevic averaged a double-double in 2022-23; his fifth straight and the eighth time has done so in 11 NBA seasons. There were 10 other players who averaged a points-rebounds double-double last season.

There were also three more players who averaged a points-assists double-double. None of them appeared in all 82 games like the 32-year-old big man did this season.

If the Bulls truly wish to retain Vucevic but not beyond one or two seasons, Smith speculates that they could offer him a larger number in the first year or add non-guaranteed years on the back end. A byproduct of that could be Williams does indeed have to play out his current contract and 2024 serves as a prove-it year ahead of restricted free agency.

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