Zach LaVine’s Absence Could Pave Way for Bulls Rookie’s Breakout

Patrick Williams

Getty Patrick Williams shoots the basketball over Jusuf Nurkic in a January 5 game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

In the middle of a four-game losing streak, the Chicago Bulls are losing Zach LaVine for 10 to 14 days as he enters the league’s health and safety protocols.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was first with reports on Thursday afternoon of LaVine’s indefinite absence:

LaVine is having a career season in year seventh, and just his fourth campaign with the Bulls. The first-time All-Star is averaging 27.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game.

As is always the case with injuries, a door will now be opened for someone else to step up, and help to fill his role in a rare opportunity at shot volume and defensive responsibility.

But who will it be for Chicago?

There’s an argument for rookie forward Patrick Williams, who’s struggled as of recent.

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Rookie Wall or Shooting Slump?

Over the last four games, all losses for the Chicago Bulls, rookie Patrick Williams has largely struggled on the offensive end. He’s averaging just 3.8 points on 43 percent shooting.

Maybe it’s the arrival of new faces Daniel Theis, Nikola Vucevic, and Troy Brown Jr. But it seems noteworthy that Williams showed no signs of struggles on that end in the immediate seven games after the trade deadline.

It could just be the 19-year old is hitting the infamous rookie wall. He’s played in all but one game for Chicago this season, and could be running on fumes to close the campaign.

Or he could just be slumping from a shooting standpoint. It happens to the best of the best in basketball, leaving Williams as no exception to a rule that affects the NBA’s top marksman.

Regardless, with LaVine out, there will be a larger number of leftover shot attempts to spread throughout the Bulls roster. The guard is averaging 19.4 attempts per game, which leads the team by a wide margin.

As Williams is a member of the starting five, look for head coach Billy Donovan to scheme out more plays for the rookie, in hopes of covering lost ground and/or potentially helping him regain his rhythm.

How Does Chicago Get Williams More Involved?

Patrick Williams’ biggest performances offensively this season haven’t come in the form of high-volume shooting nights, or spot-up three-point shooting.

The rookie has found his largest success in this offense as a cutter, drawing the attention of the entire league with how easily he’s been able to find open routes to the rim this year.

With LaVine out, opposing defenses should feel even more comfortable doubling up on Nikola Vucevic, now the Chicago Bulls’ biggest offensive threat.

In those situations, Williams should see even more opportunities as a cutter, whether backdoor or splitting any of the remaining three defenders on the floor.

Look at this play from his 23-point night against the Toronto Raptors:

Williams is able to make an easy play at the basket because of a double-team on LaVine at the top of the key.

But in order for these situations to develop, Billy Donovan will have to keep the rookie forward in the starting lineup. It’s unclear what the Bulls’ head coach has planned for the starting five now with LaVine out.

Playing Williams in both the starting five, and alongside Nikola Vucevic should allow him the opportunities to do what he does best on offense.

If he can get going and find a rhythm on easy buckets like layups and dunks, then hopefully his jumpshots will start falling more consistently thereafter.

As the Chicago Bulls look for short-term answers in Zach LaVine’s absence, prioritizing Patrick Williams’ offense should be atop the priority list of potential solutions.

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