The Chicago Bulls are receiving key reinforcements during the stretch run of the season, starting with Alex Caruso’s return from a broken wrist in Saturday’s win against Cleveland. With Lonzo Ball still yet to start lateral movement in recovering from a torn meniscus, it looks like Patrick Williams will be up next.
Williams hasn’t played since October 28, when he tore ligaments and suffered a perilunate dislocation of his left wrist on a hard fall. The second-year forward played just five games this season prior to the injury, following a solid, if not spectacular, rookie campaign. Williams is a unique player, especially on Chicago’s roster, and brings a massively important skillset to the table, particularly defensively.
At just 20-years-old, Williams is still a work in progress offensively. Last year, in 27.9 minutes per game, he averaged 9.2 points on just 7.4 field goal attempts with shooting splits of 48.3%/39.1%/72.8%. Williams can go through stretches of apparent passivity, seemingly content to take the occasional wide-open look that comes his way.
If Bulls fans were hoping that mindset might change this season, the five games he played probably weren’t encouraging. In the four full games he played before the injury, Williams attempted just 4.5 shots per game, failing to score in double digits even once. Since the beginning of his rookie year, Chicago has added three new starters in Nikola Vucevic, Ball, and DeMar DeRozan, all of whom combine to take over 47 shots per game and spend significant time on the ball.
The vast majority of players drafted top-5 in any given year find themselves on a losing team with a long runway to find their footing, assimilate into the NBA game, take shots, and make mistakes. Williams doesn’t have that luxury, due to the Bulls’ quick turnaround under the new front office led by Arturas Karnisovas.
That said, Williams can still fit into what Chicago is doing offensively. He may not always be the most willing shooter, but the early sample shows he’s a good one. He’s converted on 57 of 144 3FG attempts in his career, good for 39.6%. His release is a little slow and mechanical, but when he has time and space to set his feet and avoid a tight closeout, Williams is more than reliable from deep. He should find plenty of those opportunities, considering the attention defenses are giving to DeRozan, Vucevic, and Zach LaVine, along with the playmaking ability of Ball, Caruso, and Ayo Dosunmo.
In Williams’ absence, the Bulls have been undersized essentially all year, asking players like Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr., among others, to play out of position. There have been certain benefits to that, but Chicago has lacked interior punch, ranking 26th as a team in non-restricted area paint attempts.
At 6’7” and 215 pounds, with a wingspan close to 7-feet, Williams is a big, strong, explosive athlete who can finish above the rim and through defenders, something the Bulls need desperately.
More important than Williams’ offensive contributions is what he provides defensively. His physical attributes help him defend the bigger wing archetype that is currently dominating the NBA (LeBron, Giannis, Tatum, etc.). As commendable a job as Green, Jones. Jr., Troy Brown Jr., etc. have done, they all have limitations that Williams does not. We’ve seen Williams get his crack at some of the elite scorers in the league, often holding his own, which allows others to settle into a more natural, comfortable role.
Williams moves well laterally, allowing him to stay in front of most perimeter players. His size and strength allow him to take bumps without getting moved from his spot, while his length enables him to contest most attempts, even if he is slightly out of position.
Williams’ role should eventually expand, allowing him to explore his game. For now, if Williams can make an open shot and bring his usual effort and intensity defensively, Chicago’s standing as a title contender will be getting a boost.
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