Patrick Williams could not possibly return at a more crucial time for the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are sliding down the Eastern Conference standings and hurtling toward the NBA play-in tournament, in large part because of consistent defensive issues. Williams, who has missed all but five games with a wrist injury, can help Chicago make gains on that side of the floor with his versatility and length. The Bulls must feel thrilled about his accelerated timetable.
Initially, it seemed as though Williams’ return might not come until the end of the regular season. But the second-year forward made big gains in his recovery, and the Bulls announced that he will suit up for Monday night’s game against the Raptors. The question now becomes: How will head coach Billy Donovan work Williams into the rotation?
How Patrick Williams impacts team defense
During his rookie season, Williams showed the kind of advanced defensive skill set that made the Bulls take a chance on him with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Williams consistently made life difficult on opponents as a long presence in the passing lanes. He could prevent teams from getting transition buckets by anticipating outlet passes and had a keen sense of awareness regarding spacing in the half court.
Additionally, Williams supplied value as a weak-side defender. He understood when to help off his man and cut off straight-line drives and would come out of nowhere to block big men at the rim or rip guards trying to get into the paint.
All of these things are vital for a Bulls team that has had issues defending pick-and-roll at the point of attack this season. Williams is the kind of switchable forward who can stay on the perimeter and use his size against guards while also possessing strong instincts as a help defender.
The Florida State product can also add offensive value to the mix.
Giving the Bulls another on-ball creator and perimeter threat
Opposing defenses are beginning to attack the Bulls differently, particularly DeMar DeRozan.
The Sacramento Kings trapped DeRozan hard in Chicago’s recent loss to Sacramento. That trend has carried over into the last few games, and it necessitates more on-ball creation going forward.
Williams has some upside in that regard.
The 20-year-old showed enticing juice off the bounce in his rookie season. Williams can sometimes get loose with the handle and exhibit questionable decision-making when he gets into the lane, but he has the explosiveness to blow past slower forwards and finish through contact at the rim.
Plus, Williams made strides shooting off the dribble. According to NBA.com, he knocked down 45.5% of his pull-up jumpers last season, which is a very respectable clip.
It will also be interesting to see if Williams can shoot the ball effectively from the perimeter. He made close to 40% of his catch-and-shoot triples last season, per NBA.com, and would provide DeRozan and Zach LaVine a tremendous outlet whenever they encounter blitz doubles and help defense.
Granted, it’s hard to suggest Williams can immediately produce at pre-injury levels. He’ll need time to acclimate himself to game speed.
With that in mind, how will Billy Donovan use him over the final few weeks of the regular season?
What will Williams’ role entail?
Eventually, the Bulls will probably want to incorporate Patrick Williams into the starting five as he returns to the rotation. Whether that happens immediately remains to be seen.
Chicago figures to ultimately deploy Williams at the power forward spot and use him in closing lineups. He’s probably the perfect complement to Nikola Vucevic because of his on-ball versatility and multi-faceted offensive abilities.
Still, both Donovan and Williams need time to figure this out.
Williams might come off the bench in his first few games. He’d give the second unit a little more vitality and can also possibly spell DeRozan or LaVine. Then again, he has more size and a higher offensive ceiling than Javonte Green and could allow DeRozan to shift back to the 3-spot. Regardless, he’ll cut into other guys’ minutes, likely Green, Troy Brown Jr., and Derrick Jones Jr.
In any event, Williams can have a drastic impact on this Bulls roster. Can he help Chicago end its skid and stay out of the play-in tournament? Fans will find out shortly.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.