After missing 65 games this season due to a wrist injury, 2nd-year forward Patrick Williams finally made his return back to the Chicago Bulls two weeks ago. Based on his development profile alone, it was a comeback which was highly anticipated and one that the team needed. One which can provide an impact on both sides of his court with his length and athleticism along with his ability to hit shots from deep.
So how has it gone so far?
At times, Williams has looked like a player who is struggling to find his footing in a season where he’s missed so much time. But at other times we have once again seen flashes of the type of player he can be, and an uptick of minutes has seen him with back to back double digit point totals including a double-double against the Clippers.
Let’s take a look at how Williams has done in his first eight games back from injury and what it could mean moving forward into the playoffs and next season.
Early Struggles and Passiveness
Williams looked extremely rusty at the beginning as he worked himself back into the rotation. He couldn’t stay in front of his man on defense, and was too passive on offense: in games against the Pelicans and the Cavaliers, he took a combined six shot attempts, then didn’t take a shot at all in Chicago’s loss to the Knicks last week.
The lack of shot attempts was a problem last season when Williams was a rookie. Although the team has a much better roster of shotmakers now, there are still opportunities for other guys to get their shots up because of the attention that LaVine and DeRozan draw. So it was rough to see Williams pass up opportunities to attack defenses when they are on their heels.
Williams’ defense was concerning as well. Listed at 6’7 and 215 pounds, Williams is a player who can match up against big men who can stretch the floor while also being a decent perimeter defender. However, in games like the one against the Cavaliers, he was getting beat off the dribble with ease and allowing easy drives into the lane. For a Bulls defensive unit which already has its share of struggles, these plays weren’t helping. The only positive from Williams was on the boards, where he helped clean up defensive possessions by grabbing rebounds.
A positive trend
With the Bulls playing in games they absolutely need to have in order to secure a top six seed, it makes sense why Billy Donovan would be a bit hesitant to play a guy who was not at his best. After the first five games of his return, it was nice to see Williams play but there were a fair share of concerns as well. However, in the past 3 games we have seen a different version of Patrick Williams and he’s provided plenty of highlights.
It first started in Washington where he looked a tad bit more aggressive on offense, taking five shots, while tallying seven rebounds. Perhaps most key was Williams played 24 minutes. Then in the matchup against the Clippers, Williams stepped up and reminded everyone of his potential as a player.
Patrick Williams destroys the rim with this dunk pic.twitter.com/m4CuX2nA0d— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 1, 2022
This is the type of stuff we need to see more from Williams. He needs to keep attacking basket and keep defenses on their toes. The less time he gives defenders to react, the more easy shots will open up for Chicago’s offense. They will have to react to the drive or him going into the paint and it could leave guys open for a dump off or in the corner.
He was also smartly moving off ball too. In Chicago’s offense, Williams won’t get a ton of touches so one way to generate shots for himself by choosing the right moments of when to cut or dive to the basket.
It’s nothing fancy at all, but it was a huge play.
Basic execution, huge outcome.— Mark K (@mkhoops) April 1, 2022
Beating the trap by PASSING through it.
Pat doing what he needs to do in these moments and moving off ball.
Simple but effective stuff. pic.twitter.com/XQr6EMZ202
Williams recognized that after Chicago beat the trap that they had a numbers advantage. Alex Caruso was wide open at the top of the key and one of the Clippers defenders had to react. It happened to be the player responsible with guarding Williams. He took the space which was given to him and slammed down a dunk to give the Bulls a four point lead in OT.
Williams then on the very next offensive possession showed off his ability to stretch the floor.
With the Bulls being one of the worst teams in the NBA when it comes to attempting three-pointers, they are in desperate need for players who will take shots from that range. Williams return meant another person who can hit threes when left open. The defense collapses on DeRozan as he gets into the lane and leaves him all alone in the corner. Williams catches the ball and in one motion, rises up and drills a three which eventually helped seal the win for Chicago.
These are the type of plays Williams must continue to make for the Bulls heading into the playoffs. He hasn’t taken more than three shots from deep since he returned, but the mere threat of his shot can help. Then adding in Williams movement by cutting off ball and even driving into the basket with the ball can generate a good look for him or his teammates.
Williams’s defense has seemed to pick back up in the past few games, including a really great sequence against the Heat:
Pat just pinned a Tyler Herro fast break layup that led to a Bulls runout.— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) April 3, 2022
Next play, he stepped over to block him again and got a layup on the other end.
What a sequence. It's all happening pic.twitter.com/e2evfYlVR4
Williams has improved in terms of making sure guys don’t go right by him on the perimeter, but he still needs to massively improve in terms of getting over screens. Too many times Williams has been walled off by an opposing player, leading to trouble for the player who is now tasked with guarding his man. The hope is that by next season he improves at this and joins the ranks of Caruso, Lonzo Ball and Ayo Dosunmu as guys who disrupt pick and rolls even before they start by getting over the screen.
It’s hard to expect any player to miss that much of time in a season and return seamlessly, especially a player as young as Williams.
But his recent stretch of play shows that he seems to figuring things out in terms of where he fits in the structure of this team. Try to make things happen on offense by taking shots when presented with the opportunity. Continue to clean up on the glass, which is a big boost to a Bulls team that struggles with teams that have size to outmuscle them on the boards.
Williams won’t have it all figured by the end of the season but the hope is that he can continue improving. It’s more about the future than the present when it comes to Williams. But at the current moment he’s giving plenty of reason for optimism that he’s on his way to becoming a good player.