Patrick Williams' NBA transition has been filled with whirlwind adjustments; to more condensed game prep, to more focused dieting, to moving to a brand new city -- and brand new climate -- on the fly at age 19.
And with every game seems to come a fresh new challenge for the rookie. In his first 22 appearances, he's spent extended time guarding the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. On Wednesday, Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans flap into town.
"That's the NBA," Williams told reporters after morning shootaround. "Just gotta be ready each and every night to go out and defend the weirdest of the weird. The guys that shouldn't be making the shots that they're making or the guys that shouldn't be jumping the way that they're jumping."
Williamson certainly falls in that category. Officially listed at 6-foot-7, 284 pounds, the Pelicans' second-year wunderkin is an athlete of the highest freak-titude. His post and face-up games feature healthy doses of lightning-fast spins and quick-twitch floaters. On straight line drives, his ability to absorb and play through contact is elite, and his bounce off the court is both spontaneous and jaw-dropping -- especially second-jumping on putback tries.
In a recent, remarkable show of strength, he incited a play stoppage during a Feb. 5 matchup with the Indiana Pacers by bending the rim on a dunk attempt.
"It's not a secret that he shouldn't be jumping and moving the way that he is, being his size," Williams said. "But he does."
Williams and Williamsons' ACC days at Florida State and Duke, respectively, never lined up. But Williams said the two first became acquainted working out together "a couple times" in Spartanburg, S.C. Williams is originally from Charlotte, N.C.; Williamson from Salisbury.
Since then, Williamson has grown into one of the most electrifying players in the NBA. Though his second season hasn't been met with nearly the same level of hysteria as his first, he's built on a strong -- albeit shortened -- rookie campaign to enter Wednesday with averages of 23.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 32.2 minutes per game, all improvements from 2019-20. He's scored in double-figures in each of his 22 appearances, ranks ninth in the league in free throw attempts per game (7.6, 0.3 more than 10th-place James Harden) and just Tuesday matched a single-game career-high with 7 assists in a blowout win over the Houston Rockets.
"He’s obviously a very unique and talented player," said Bulls head coach Billy Donovan after Tuesday practice. "I feel bad for him because he’s had to battle a lot of the injury bug so to speak his rookie year and he kind of came back and he’s dealt with some stuff. But obviously he’s playing really, really well right now.
"He’s obviously an incredible force around the basket. He’s got incredible size, strength and power. He’s a very unique player because of how strong he is and how quick he is off the floor. But certainly as he continues to get more experience and get himself to a place where he becomes healthy, obviously he’s going to be an incredible player.”
Should Donovan ride the same starting lineup he's employed the last two games in light of injuries to Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. -- which features Denzel Valentine at small forward and Williams at power forward -- the rookie could find himself lined up across from Williamson with regularity.
But he's the type of player, Williams said, that will take a team effort to corral.
"Our defense, we have loads, we have shifts, we have guys in help, so it's never just 1-on-1," he said. "I'm just 100 percent confident, whether it's me or anybody who guards him, that we can do the job. We just gotta stop him from getting downhill and then just kinda live with the shots that he takes."