When Patrick Williams initially turned his left ankle during a Sept. 15 workout, the second-year forward didn't think much of it. He got up and walked it off.
But when swelling ensued, Chicago Bulls officials ordered an MRI exam that revealed a severe sprain, sidelining Williams for four to six weeks from the date of injury.
"I haven’t really ever gotten hurt and had to sit out this long before," Williams said Monday at Bulls media day. "So it’s definitely new for me, something that I don’t want to get used to."
Indeed, Williams proved one of the most durable Bulls during his rookie season, starting 71 of 72 games and raising expectations for what the fourth overall pick of the 2020 NBA draft can accomplish moving forward. Knowing that dominant two-way forwards can go a long way in the league, coach Billy Donovan challenged Williams to get in elite physical condition this offseason.
It's something, Donovan said, that Williams was well on his way to accomplishing before his injury setback, which followed a busy summer that included practicing against Team USA as part of the U.S. select team and serving as the primary playmaker at Summer League.
With the addition of DeMar DeRozan, Williams' offensive workload won't rival what it entailed during Summer League. But the Bulls still want and need him to be aggressive at both ends after he showed flashes of defensive stardom.
"I have a full season under my belt guarding some of the best players in the league," Williams said. "Obviously, it’s going to be different. Every game’s different. Every season’s going to be different. But just having those reps, I think that helps a lot. And then having guys who can also defend like Lonzo (Ball) and Zach (LaVine). I think Zach showed a lot in the Olympics that he can really defend when he wants to. He is one of the best defenders, I think, in this league.
"We have a lot of really good defenders on this team. So I don’t think it all boils down to me. But I’m definitely ready to do my part defensively, on the boards. Kind of like what I said earlier, anything this team needs me to do to win, I’m all for it."
Donovan said Williams could begin running this week. If Williams responds well to that, he could be on the path to return without missing significant regular-season time. Still, at least for now, there's a hole at starting power forward.
"I do think that we’re going to have to be somewhat creative in moving players around," Donovan said. "You could theoretically move DeMar to the power forward spot. You could move (Alex) Caruso into the starting lineup. You can take some guys that are in camp, see what a guy like Stanley Johnson can do. He’s been in the league a while. He was a high draft pick. In some of these preseason games, based on where Patrick is at, maybe see what he looks like out there. Derrick Jones Jr. is another guy you can throw out there. I do think we have some versatility and flexibility to use if we want to play with four guards. Or if its not four guards, maybe it’s three guards and a forward. But the key is how these guys look playing together."
And at some point, Williams will be a big part of that.