Patrick Williams practiced fully Wednesday and, barring a setback, is on track to make his preseason debut in the Chicago Bulls’ preseason finale on Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
That the second-year forward attacked rehabilitation to return on the short end of his projected absence, exactly four weeks after severely spraining his left ankle, is impressive.
Now, that aggressive mindset needs to play out in on-the-court ways.
It’s well documented how much the Bulls have implored the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft to use his physical and athletic gifts to make more of an impact. Not that they’re dissatisfied with the defensive mindset and shooting ability that led to second-team All-Rookie honors last season.
They just want to see more.
That’s why it was refreshing to hear Williams talk assertively following his first full practice of training camp.
“It seems weird to say, but I’m one of the only guys that was here last year that kind of knows the defense,” Williams said. “So kind of being vocal defensively and kind of talking to guys as far as what I see.”
Now, just take out the “kind of” qualifiers. It’s time for Williams to assert himself.
The question, of course, is what Williams’ role will be now that the Bulls have significantly upgraded their offensive firepower by adding DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball, plus playing alongside Nikola Vučević for a full season.
With so many offensive options, Williams must make sure he doesn’t have as many nights where he fades into the background. He can do that by not necessarily always scoring but by running the floor hard in transition and cutting with force and purpose.
“What I was disappointed about from a training camp perspective is here’s a guy who had a really good summer,” Donovan said. “And it’s just unfortunate that he couldn’t get that time with Vooch, with Zach (LaVine), with DeMar to figure out, ‘Hey, here I am in pick-and-rolls, getting out in transition with these guys, finding my spots.’”
Williams has been able to observe the offensive changes. Returning Wednesday gives him a week to get reps — again, barring a setback — before the regular-season opener in Detroit. He likes what he sees.
“We’re playing fast for sure,” Williams said. “We’re getting out in transition, being able just to flow in the offense. We have a lot of guys who can score, so there are going to be a lot of kick-out and catch-and-shoot opportunities for me.”
Defensively is where Williams made his biggest impact last season. But new additions could afford him some flexibility at that end.
More often than not, Williams, as he did last season, will draw the initial assignment on the alpha stars like Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. But he may not stay on that all game.
“I think we’ve got a little bit more flexibility on the perimeter,” Donovan said. “From the standpoint of Lonzo and Zach and DeMar, even Troy (Brown Jr.), Derrick (Jones Jr.), Alex (Caruso), we’ve got versatility in terms of guys I can switch. When you’re switching, you’re looking at being able to do it one through four.
“So this may be a situation where Patrick can be on a power forward, small forward and point guard in one possession. He’s going to have to guard multiple positions for us. He’s got to make a jump there.”
The Bulls are asking a lot of Williams because they believe in his talent, work ethic and skill set. Williams turned 20 during the offseason. He’s not a teenager or a rookie anymore. It’s go time.