If Patrick Williams had spoken to reporters after scoring a career-high 23 points against the Toronto Raptors Sunday night, he probably would have kept a level head. On a night where he led the Bulls in scoring for the first time in his young career, he probably would have credited his teammates first and foremost.
And, well, that would have been warranted. All nine of Williams’ makes were assisted upon, as he cut and slashed his way to easy lay-ins and dunks galore against a decimated Raptors defense playing an aggressive triangle-and-two coverage to slow Zach LaVine -- often at the expense of the back line.
“He had a lot of cuts when Thad (Young) found him in the pocket, when we found him when we got to the paint. He has been getting better in reading it,” Tomáš Satoranský said. “I think that is the biggest step for him.”
Satoranský and Young, new entrants into the starting lineup in place of Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr., hurled 14 of the Bulls’ 35 assists. Five of those 14 went to Williams. Their presence noticeably sharpened the front line’s ball and player movement, which trickled down to the tune of nine players scoring in double-figures. All nine attempted between seven and 14 shots.
“That is the identity of coach (Billy) Donovan he wants us to play with from the beginning of the season, everybody share the ball, to cut for eachother with the pace and I think we have been doing that,” Satoranský said. “I feel that is our identity; we have to run and play with pace and we did that today.”
For a night, Williams was the biggest beneficiary, refreshing considering the minutes of press time Donovan, Williams’ teammates and Williams himself have stressed the need for him to be more aggressive offensively. Williams entered the All-Star break eighth on the Bulls in shot attempts per game, and in the two games after the break before the Raptors bout, he scored just 7 total points on cumulative 2-for-10 shooting.
Part of that lull, Donovan said, was a product of reintegrating Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. from extended injury absences.
“We got to help him (Williams) there to be quite honest. I feel like sometimes he can get caught,” said Donovan. “When [Otto Porter Jr.] and Lauri and Wendell were out (with injury), he was kind of all over the place offensively. And when I say all over the place, position-wise, he was playing a lot of different positions. So he was getting some of these rolls, some of these dives. And then as we’ve gotten whole as a team, even I just noticed in some of the last two games, he’s just a spacer.
“He’s got to cut, and he’s got to know when to cut. Because sometimes young guys can just start cutting all over the place and they can get in the way. But he really made some very effective and I thought very, very good cuts that allowed us to steal some easy baskets. We need a lot of that out of him.”
Indeed, against Toronto, Williams attempted a career-high number of shots (14) and got to the charity stripe five times, adding 4 assists and a steal and a block each. He didn’t shoot particularly well (1-for-4 from 3-point range), but after a 2-for-7 start made seven consecutive field goals to finish 9-for-14.
The themes from that stretch: Timely, purposeful dives to the rim, and his teammates (mainly Young, who assisted four of those seven) finding him. Open space was especially easy to come by on plays initiated by LaVine, who regularly attracts multiple defenders. He finished the night with just 10 shot attempts, yet the Bulls’ offense hummed.
Williams is now scoring 1.27 points per possession (51st percentile) and shooting 17-for-24 on cuts this season, according to NBA.com’s playtype data. He has all the tools to be dynamic in that context, as well as attacking closeouts off advantages generated by his teammates (though a 10 percent turnover rate has dragged his PPP on a limited sample of 30 possessions).
The questions are: Can he build on Sunday’s performance? And will the Bulls’ invigorated style of play translate to superior competition? The Raptors were without three starters due to health and safety protocols.
Time will tell. But with a little help from his friends, the hope is Sunday can spark more than a one-game trend for the rook.
“He has to continue to obviously get better in it (cutting), but I feel very confident in the way he learns things and the way he improves,” Satoranský said. “It’s been going well and just happy for him he had that kind of game.”