Sitting on the clock with the fourth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls had options after seeing the first three picks taken as expected.
Isaac Okoro, Killian Hayes (my choice), and Deni Avdija were on the board, all of which would have been decent selections. But instead, Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley decided to take a swing, selecting Florida State forward Patrick Williams. There weren’t many rumors of Chicago wanting to draft Williams until the final few days.
At only 19 years old, Williams still has a lot of things in his game he needs to work on and this may be more for future seasons than how thought the Bulls would operate this draft. But there is a lot of raw talent and tools that Williams flashed while at FSU that shows why he ultimately was a top-five pick.
What he does well
The pre-game stats don’t pop off the page for Williams, as he came off the bench in all 29 games he played last season. He averaged 9.2 points and four rebounds per game but also had a decent true shooting percentage of 55.3.
However, he did have a steal rate of 2.5 percent along with a block rate of 5.6, and it is the numbers that speak the loudest about his defensive impact. He’s a fantastic help defender and is someone who can come over to clean up mistakes at the rim. Williams excels defensively in this role and his presence will be helpful on a Chicago team that still has defensive issues on the perimeter. Along with Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls now have two fantastic rim protectors on their team who know exactly when to rotate over to stop an easy basket.
More Pat Williams rim protection. See both the ability to impact helping from the strong side with the block then force a miss with verticality without it showing up in the box score pic.twitter.com/RlkoskoYr8— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) January 11, 2020
This could be a big boost for a Chicago team that has had their fair share of struggles on the perimeter last season and will most likely two of their better defensive guards leave in free agency. Williams is also great at leaping up and forcing a tougher shot. He has good recovery speed defensively and can come from behind to deny baskets at the rim as well. At 6’8, 225 pounds, and with a 6’11 wingspan, Williams has the size to guard power forwards in the NBA. He could maybe one day play as a small-ball five in some lineups but, that’s something to discuss in the distant future. Right now, he can match up against power forwards and be able to hold his own.
Being a good help defender will make Chicago a better defensive team and as Jackson Frank notes, having a guy like Williams can also allow the Bulls to be a little more daring in defensive coverages:
The benefit of rostering someone like Williams is the flexibility it provides schematically, particularly on defense. His secondary rim protection allows you to vary your ball-screen coverage and shape your approach around the pros and cons of the center (and others) on the floor.
Perhaps you lean into a more aggressive plan tailored to take risks and pursue turnovers because you can rely on the 4-man to cover for miscues or openings resulting from traps, hedges or double-teams in pick-and-roll. If it’s a ground-bound plodder at the 5, sticking to drop coverage and deploying Williams as a stunt-and-recover helper might work, too (he was good at stunts, but the poor movement skills hinder him on recovery closeouts when darting back to shooters).
This will allow Williams to play with both centers like WCJ or even a slower one like Luke Kornet, who can’t afford to go out to the perimeter when faced with defending screens. Williams’s activity and anticipation on defense also allow him to get his hands in the passing lanes and create takeaways, as shown by his steal rate. With his size, he won’t have any problems matching up defensively against NBA power forwards despite being a rookie.
Offensively, Williams looks to be a player who can shoot a bit, attack closeouts while also displaying some moments of passing brilliance. Starting with the shooting, although he shot 32 percent from three at Florida State, he still projects to be a shooter based on his free throw percentage (85 percent). He won’t be a knockdown three-point threat but also not someone defenses will dare to shoot. This will offer Zach LaVine another kick out option when defenses collapse on him in the lane. If he can knock down three’s at about an above-average rate, it will put more pressure on defenses as they cannot leave him alone in the corners.
Another element of Williams’s game is his ability to handle the ball. As Karnisovas pointed out in his post-draft press conference, Williams has experience having the ball in his hands as he played point guard for the majority of his high school career. Although he may not have the chance to do this a lot with Chicago, this is a good skill to have. Williams showed some moments during Florida State games where he hit pull-up jumpers off the dribble and, it points to how dangerous of an offensive player he could one day be if he could keep improving in this area. So much of the burden is on Chicago’s guards to not only create offense for others but themselves as well. If even one just player can lighten that offensive workload just a little bit, it’s a boost. While this isn’t something to expect from Williams right away, he has shown that he can experience handle the ball around the perimeter, can beat a defender to a spot, and splash a shot in their face.
He has the vision to spot open teammates and fire passes over to them for shot opportunities.
Sweet live dribble, off-hand skip pass from Patrick Williams out of the pick-and-roll pic.twitter.com/o9D4sAARRY— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) March 27, 2020
Williams’s vision will be a help to the offense as he can find open teammates for easy baskets. He can also make crisp passes through tight windows, showing his willingness to find the open man when the opportunity presents itself.
There’s a lot to like about Williams’s game. It’s not a finished product at all but when you watch him, there are skills he shows or plays that stick out which confirm why the Bulls saw a lot of upside in him.
What he needs to work on
Williams can guard fours in the NBA but the further he gets near the perimeter, the less effective he becomes. He struggles even more against smaller guards: when Williams switches onto them, they end up going right past him. Although Williams does have the ability to recover nicely, it’s still a problem that he is getting beat so easily in the first place. This will be something NBA teams will exploit as they may start hunting him in the pick and roll, forcing him to defend on the perimeter. Or teams could scheme plays and concepts which moves him away from the basket, limiting his effectiveness as a rim protector. This problem of not being able to stay in front of his man could be a problem against wings as well, which leads to issues regarding which kinds of lineups and situations you can play him in. Having that lack of versatility on defense could make it tough sledding for Williams and it leaves Chicago with a familiar defensive problem where they have a great rim protector but mediocre wing defenders.
Williams’s playmaking and pull-up jumpers are solid and the upside is there but if he wants to become more of an offensive threat he will need to be able to do these things consistently. Williams showed moments but nothing where he took over a game offensively. In fact, during his time at FSU, he didn’t score over 20 points in a single game. Again, this brings up the question of how much he will have the ball in his hands when playing for Chicago but regardless, he will need to improve on making his shooting is consistent off the dribble to keep defenses honest. Otherwise, they will not view him as a consistent offensive threat. Another concern is the turnovers as he had a turnover rate of 17.1 percent while in college.
Ultimately, Williams will bring defensive prowess as a help defender and rim protector. He has shown that he can be a decent passer and projects to be a solid three-point shooter in the NBA. There’s a lot to like about him as a prospect. However, he still needs to become better at guarding on the perimeter and against wings along with improving as a potential offensive creator. There is a lot to improve upon in his game and that’s fine. Again, he’s 19 years old and by taking him, the Bulls know this is going to be a prospect who will need some years to develop into the player they want him to be. As of right now, Williams has the tools to one day be a great starter who can guard multiple positions and someone who can keep defenses honest with his shooting from three and possibly hit shots off the dribble.
This was the first draft of the Karnisovas-Eversley era and they took a chance on a player who is a project. In a draft class where there wasn’t a clear cut superstar, Chicago did well to go with the player they thought would give them the most upside. After the last failed rebuild, the new FO signaled a new era with this pick. One where they won’t make the safe pick all the time and instead sometimes take a swing for the fences. This was the perfect draft to do that and they took a shot. If he can hit on all the points which made him such an intriguing prospect, Patrick Williams could be a key part of Chicago’s future core and a good player in the NBA for a long time.