Thursday was a tough day for the Chicago Bulls. Despite a valiant comeback attempt and a chance to win in the waning seconds, the Bulls took a 104-103 loss to the New York Knicks. But their first loss of the season pails in comparison to the latest news regarding Patrick Williams, a key contributor who Chicago will now scramble to replace.
Patrick Williams is out for the season
During the second half of action against New York, Williams left the game with a wrist injury. But the diagnosis is far worse than anyone could have expected.
As reported by ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Williams suffered a left wrist dislocation, an injury that will force the second-year forward to likely miss the rest of the regular season. He is expected to undergo surgery soon.
The 20-year-old suffered what Woj called a “perilunate dislocation”, a high energy injury to the wrist associated with neurological injury. While no timetable has been set for Williams’ eventual return to action, head coach Billy Donovan told reporters it’s a “pretty significant wrist injury.”
Williams made 71 starts as a rookie in 2020-21 and started all five of Chicago’s games this year. The former Florida State Seminole is only averaging 6.6 points in 25.0 minutes but offers incredible value on defense. Matched up against Julius Randle Thursday, Williams held the 6-foot-8 All-Star to two points in the first half.
Billy Donovan has limited options to replace Williams
The Bulls have maintained the same starting five each game, with Williams securely seated at the 4. Now, Donovan will have to find a new starter, while also opening up a bench he hasn’t gone to a lot.
Williams is one of six players Chicago deploys who earns 25 minutes or more. There’s the starting five — Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Williams — plus sixth man Alex Caruso. Behind them, only Javonte Green and Troy Brown Jr. average double-digit minutes, earning 15.8 and 13.0 respectively. There’s also Alize Johnson and Ayo Dosunmu, two players who could be in line for increased minutes.
Out of the five primary reserves, including Caruso, only Johnson is taller than 6-foot-6. That makes things difficult for Chicago, which already has three of its four remaining starters at 6-6 or shorter. It’s hard to imagine Johnson, a fourth-year journeyman earning less than 10 minutes a night, suddenly sliding into one of the best starting fives in the NBA.
The 6-foot-5 Green represents an interesting choice as a replacement for Williams. Donovan has relied on the 28-year-old more than any of his other deeper reserves. Plus, Green’s time with Chicago last season gives him familiarity with the offense. However, the fourth-year guard has just four career starts to his name.
Green, Brown, and Johnson are three players now in line for more minutes. But there is a likelihood Caruso would be the biggest beneficiary of Williams’ sudden departure. The former Lakers guard led the team with nearly 11 minutes of playing time in the fourth quarter against the Knicks. While someone like Green may start ahead of him, Caruso looks like he’s in line to close out games more often than not.
The Chicago Bulls can’t afford another injury
The Bulls were aggressive this offseason, signing Ball, DeRozan, and Caruso to multi-year deals. But even with a playoff-caliber lineup in place, it was clear they could not afford many injuries disrupting it. And now, just five games in, Williams’ wrist injury leaves Chicago in a precarious spot moving forward.
This wasn’t the first bit of concerning injury news the Bulls have dealt with this season. Earlier this week, news broke of LaVine playing through a ligament tear in his thumb. Unlike Williams, LaVine is still able to suit up. However, if Chicago’s leading scorer is forced to sit out, a dream season could quickly transition into a nightmare.
While healthy now, Ball is someone who’s struggled with durability in the past. The fifth-year playmaker has already missed 91 games in his professional career, so there’s no reason to be bullish about his 82-game chances. Vucevic also has three seasons of 60 or fewer games on his resume. Either of their absences would throw Chicago into serious turmoil.
Great teams in the East like the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks have the depth to survive various players going down. The Bulls will now have an opportunity to do that with Patrick Williams’ season likely over. But should any other starter join him on the bench, Chicago will be in a heap of trouble.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.