Bulls Calling on Rookie to Live up to Potential

Patrick Williams

Getty CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 22: Patrick Williams #44 of the Chicago Bulls dunks against the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center on April 22, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.

Within the first month of his young professional career, Patrick Williams was tasked with difficult defensive assignments, going up against some of the NBA’s best players.

The Chicago Bulls rookie began 2021 facing up against the reigning league most valuable player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The following week, Williams matched up against LeBron James and then Kawhi Leonard, garnering praise from both players.

It didn’t take long for Williams’ defensive prowess to be recognized, and that has been his biggest contribution to the Bulls this season. He’s done well enough to maintain his spot in the starting lineup. However, Williams has the potential to be more than just a defensive-minded player.

On the offensive end, the 19-year-old has made a name for himself with his midrange jumper and has become more confident in shooting 3-pointers. Beyond that, he hasn’t offered Chicago much else and doesn’t produce offensively on a consistent basis. But the Bulls know he can be an all-around player.

He has shown glimpses of his offensive potential throughout the season — most recently on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks — and his team has been calling on him to be a more aggressive offensive player.

The latest Bulls news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Bulls newsletter here!

Join Heavy on Bulls!

Offensive Outburst in Atlanta

In a game where the Bulls were without Zach LaVine, Nikola Vučević and Troy Brown Jr., Williams stepped up big. He scored 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting, making him the team’s second-leading scorer in Saturday’s 108-97 loss to the Hawks. It was the rookie’s third-highest scoring effort of the season, his first double-figure scoring game since April 17 and the first time he attempted that many field goals since March 29.

To reach that amount of points, Williams didn’t just rely on the standard midrange jumpers and 3-pointers that have typically made up his offense this season. He really made it a point to be aggressive on the offensive end. He scored off of drives, dunks and basket cuts, too.

With nine points, the rookie led the Bulls during their game-high 37-point second quarter. It helped propel Chicago into a 63-54 lead heading into halftime.

But that aggression was absent come the second half.

Of his 19 points, 15 were in the first half while the remaining four points happened in the fourth quarter. Williams went scoreless in the third period, matching the Bulls’ overall struggles during that quarter. Chicago put up just 12 points in the third quarter, matching its season-low quarterly scoring effort.

And while it was good to see a more offensive-minded Williams, the Bulls want that more often.

Patrick’s Potential

Williams’ latest showing is the latest glimpse at what he can offer the Bulls if he keeps working at it. Thaddeus Young, per NBC Sports Chicago, can see the rookie making great strides in the league:

I think he has a chance of being a really, really good player in this league, a star-type player. It’s just a matter of how bad he wants it. And I think he wants it.

But it’s one thing to want it, and it’s another thing to pursue it. Head coach Billy Donovan wants Williams to pursue it.

Following the loss to Atlanta, Donovan called on his rookie to be a more active, all-around player, as noted by NBC Sports Chicago:

I’ve always felt like every level you go up in the game of basketball whether you go from high school to college, college to the NBA the hardest thing to learn is when do I shoot and when do I pass. And when do I go be aggressive? Patrick’s always been a very, very unselfish team-oriented player. And as a young guy at 19 years old, there are times when he tries to be aggressive and it doesn’t work out well and maybe he will back away just because he’s a team guy. And there are other times I just try to thrust him into it and say, ‘You have to be aggressive’… I would like for him to do more.

In the same report from NBC Sports Chicago, Young agreed with his coach and admitted Williams has been passive on the offensive end at times. But the 14-year veteran also acknowledged that the rookie is only 19 years old, and the team sometimes forgets about this:

Pat is at a stage where he’s still learning. And we’re still grooming and still teaching him a lot of different things. Some of the stuff that he does that we think is spectacular, he doesn’t even know is spectacular. He just thinks it’s just a regular play that he’s done. And we’re, like, “No, that was amazing. Whatever you just did, keep doing more of that.” And he’s, like, “Oh, OK.” And you’re, like, “That’s what’s going to make him good because he thinks the things that he can do physically are normal things.” It’s not to some of us on this team and around the league.

Now Williams needs to realize and act upon his potential.

The Bulls were outscored by the Hawks 54-34 in the second half. While the struggles weren’t solely Williams’ doing, the fact he failed to match his offensive output from the first half is telling of what kind of impact he had for Chicago. In fact, when Williams has scored in double figures this season, the Bulls are 16-13. So more often than not, a good offensive game from the 19-year-old rookie is a good game by Chicago.

With LaVine still out in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols and the Bulls’ playoff hopes dwindling, now is as good of a time as ever for Williams to show off just how much of a threat he can be not only on the defensive end but as an offensive player, too.

READ NEXT: The Uncomfortable Truth About Zach LaVine’s Return