Bulls

NBA Draft: Grading Bulls’ swing on Patrick Williams

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Artūras Karnišovas made his first splash as the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations on draft night, selecting Florida State forward Patrick Williams with the No. 4 overall pick.

A week or two ago, this would have been considered a major reach. Perhaps it still is. But Williams’ stock skyrocketed toward the end of the predraft process, with our K.C. Johnson reporting on Nov. 17 that talk of the Bulls’ interest in the Florida State forward was “intensifying by the day.”

Now, the question becomes: What -- and who -- are the Bulls getting in Williams? And how should we feel about the selection?

What Williams brings

Start with the tools. A 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward with a reported 6-11 wingspan, he represents a possible antidote for a team that’s seen their wing rotation often depleted in recent years.

At the defensive end of the floor, his impact should be felt right away -- he’s strong and sturdy on the ball and a playmaker off of it, as evidenced by gaudy block (5.6%) and steal (2.5%) rates in his freshman season at Florida State. The perception that he’s a “raw” prospect doesn’t jibe with his solid IQ in help scenarios, especially as a weak side shot-blocker. Rim protection is an area in which the Bulls struggled last season, allowing the highest opponent rim frequency and seventh-highest rim field goal percentage in the league, per Cleaning the Glass, which factors out non-garbage time possessions. 

 

So, even as a rookie, Williams projects to help stabilize a team that appears likely to lose two of its most stalwart defenders in Kris Dunn and Shaq Harrison. Williams profiles as a full-time 4, but should be able to toggle between forward spots, and maybe even man some center minutes depending on the matchup. He’s also a strong rebounder, especially on the offensive glass, another area the Bulls could use a hand.

Evaluating Williams’ translation on the offensive side of the ball requires a bit more projection. He shot 32 percent from 3-point range at Florida State (50 total attempts) and put up just 7.1 shots per game playing in a reserve role -- though he did finish games and receive ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors.

There are positive indicators on that front. For one, Williams was an 83.8 percent free-throw shooter in college. If he makes the spot-up jumper even a moderately respectable weapon, he has the handle and athleticism to hunt opportunities cutting and attacking closeouts. A powerful athlete, he finished 62.4 percent of his rim attempts last season.

And then there’s the truly tantalizing aspect of his game: his off-the-dribble creation. Williams generated 0.962 points per possession (90th percentile) as a pick-and-roll ball handler at Florida State, per Synergy. That mark came on just 26 possessions -- not much -- but for his size, there’s a lot to like in terms of his ability to put the ball on the floor, pull up in the mid-range area and make nice passing reads.

The cherry on top -- and you’ll hear this point a lot: He’s the youngest collegiate player in the class, having turned 19 in August. The gifts are there, waiting to be tapped, and there’s room to grow.

Questions

Will the outside shot come around with time? If not, what’s hit utility at the offensive end? Will the promise of a truly multi-positional defender -- Williams said he expects to guard four positions -- actualize, or will he struggle to keep up with dartier guards and wings at the next level? And does he overlap in a damaging way with current pieces of the Bulls’ core (read: Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.)?

 

All are pressing questions that will require fast answers. Training camps open Dec. 1, a tight, tight turnaround for any rookie to acclimate to a new system. His body is NBA ready, by all accounts. Is he? And if he’s not, how speedily will second-guessers swoop if players the Bulls passed on emerge?

Grade: B

In a draft where even the highest-ranked prospects are highly polarizing, the Bulls took a swing on a guy they evidently believe in. The logic to the selection is that -- given his age, physical tools and flashes of skill -- he can blossom into a quintessential modern 4 on both ends of the floor. A gap-filling game-wrecker defensively, and a floor-spacer with some creation ability on the offensive side.

Williams may hit. He may not. And though there were arguably more surefire bets on the board, he doesn’t feel like a significantly worse bet than the Bulls’ other options, with Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball being plucked first, second and third, respectively. 

So solid marks to the Bulls’ front office for making a selection that can help in areas the Bulls struggle in the present, fill a position of team need and league value, and  has markedly high upside in the long-term. No reason to jump for joy (yet), no reason to hammer the move either. Now, we wait and see if it pans out.