Patrick Williams is proving he’s the key to the Bulls’ future

Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls (Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls (Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

In a relatively short career to date, 21-year-old Patrick Williams has encountered his fair share of criticism and frustration from Chicago Bulls fans thus far. After having his sophomore campaign cut short to just 17 games due to injury, the pressure to meet expectations of greatness was only amplified by limited opportunities for growth.

Arguably even a more significant obstacle than the injury itself is that the former No. 4 overall pick joined a Bulls team ready to compete and push for the playoffs. Instead of having the time to figure his game out at his own pace, he was forced to rush to find his place on a roster led by All-Star talents like DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic.

He’s shown flashes of what he could become in the past, but has thus far failed to consistently dominate on the court. After stringing two great performances together, however, some fans are holding out hope that these promising signs are just the beginning of his development taking off.

Up against an excellent 76ers team last night, Williams took it to them on their homecourt and delivered his second-best scoring performance of the season with 18 points and 6 rebounds on a hyper-efficient 7-for-11 shooting from the field. What’s most impressive, is that he did most of his damage in the third quarter, scoring 16 points and pushing Chicago over the edge to secure their first big lead of the game.

Patrick Williams is finally playing like the building block of the future that the Chicago Bulls have always needed.

As good as Pat was last night, it was still just his second-best game last week, as he delivered another strong outing against the Nets on Wednesday. He posted 22 points and 7 rebounds against Brooklyn, while also taking a page out of DeRozan’s by drawing fouls and shooting a season-high 7 free throws (and knocking them all down too).

Williams was often criticized for a lack of assertiveness in his first two seasons with the Bulls, but that has simply not been an issue this year for the forward. Despite playing with a much more talented team than he had around him as a rookie, Pat is averaging the most shot attempts and makes per game of his career. On top of just chucking the ball up, he’s also picking up on the effectiveness of the drive-and-kick to open shooters on the wing.

He’s not just getting it done on offense, but on the defensive end as well. Despite consistently being given the toughest defensive assignment each game, Williams rates out as a top-five wing defender this season, according to BBall Index’s D LEBRON rating. Looking at the company he’s keeping on this list, Pat’s defensive value to this team alone is worth much more than anyone seems to be giving him credit for.

As the only player on this Bulls’ roster with the size to defend larger power forwards and the agility to stay in front of wings, Williams is similar to teammate Lonzo Ball in that there’s simply no one on the team that can replace what he offers. It’s no coincidence that losing both of these players played a large part in Chicago’s second-half collapse last year.

Looking at the personnel on the Bulls, they should by all accounts be one of the worst defensive teams in the entire NBA. Only two of Chicago’s starters make a positive impact on the defensive end, and only of their top three minute-getters off the bench are known for making any defensive impact — referring to Alex Caruso, Williams, and Dosunmu, respectively. Yet, the Bulls still rank middle of the pack with the 20th-best defensive rating (and as close to 14th as they are to 23rd).

If Williams can become as consistent on offense as he is on defense, the Bulls may have just found the NBA’s most precious archetype in an elite 3-and-D wing. Considering the 2020 NBA Draft is looking more and more like a disaster of a class, Bulls fans will continue grasping tight to any positive development we see from Williams for the foreseeable future.

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