It seemed fitting that on the day the Bulls sat Zach LaVine to preserve draft lottery odds -- er, his left knee -- Patrick Williams offered a glimpse of what he can be.
Scoring a career-high 24 points, sinking a career-high-tying three 3-pointers and looking in general like the two-way force he needs to become, Williams reminded all the importance of a high lottery pick reaching his potential.
By virtue of their 105-91 loss to the Nets, the Bulls kept their draft lottery odds to move into the top-four picks at 26.3 percent. That’s where they need to finish to keep the pick or else it conveys to the Orlando Magic as part of the Nikola Vučević trade.
If the Bulls lose on Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks, they’re guaranteed to keep those odds in advance of the June 22 draft lottery. And if Williams can produce games like Saturday’s more consistently next season and that pick is retained, it could speak to the new regime’s draft prowess.
“This is the player they want me to be,” Williams finally acknowledged. “It takes some getting used to, especially for me because it's not natural to go out there and be aggressive, but this is who I gotta be in order to be the player that I want to be in this league. So I'm up for the challenge."
Don’t forget that some considered Williams a reach with the fourth overall pick. He didn’t even start in his lone season at Florida State, though Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton memorably reminded NBC Sports Chicago on draft night that Williams finished games.
That Williams authored his best game of the season following coach Billy Donovan pointedly telling reporters that he planned to talk to his rookie spoke volumes. Williams passed up several clean looks in the Bulls’ victory over the Raptors, in which Williams took eight shots. The previous game, also against the Nets, Williams took just two.
Williams finished with 14 attempts Saturday. That marked his first double-digit shot game since May 1 and just his second since March 31.
“There’s a lot we’ve asked him to do this year that he’s never done his entire life,” Donovan said. “He’s never played in pick-and-roll. He’s never been an iso player. He’s always just kind of functioned in the system.”
Donovan and Williams watched a film session together Friday before the Bulls flew to New York. In it, Donovan tried to point out to Williams the times he tried to process the right play to make on an NBA level where decision-making is fast-paced.
In other words, more instinctive reactions and less thinking. It’s what happens when you hear more seasoned players talking about the game slowing down for them.
“There are times guys can kind of fake at him and maybe try to get out into the passing lane. So he a lot of times is anticipating what’s getting ready to happen instead of just reading what’s going to happen,” Donovan said. “The game moves fast. The nuances of the defense, the way teams rotate, he’s got to figure that out.”
Reiterating a season-long theme, Donovan praised Williams’ work ethic and coachability.
“I get that he’s the fourth player taken in the draft,” the coach said. “He’s got great upside. He hasn’t even come close to touching his ceiling. These are just things he’s going to have to go through.”
Asked to grade his rookie season, Williams politely declined, saying that’s not for him to say. He’d defer to his coaches and teammates.
Luckily for the Bulls, that’s the only deferring he did Saturday.
“Of course at Florida State, they did a wonderful job of teaching the basics of pick-and-roll and how to make reads,” Williams said. “But at this level, the reads are harder to make. The reads are different when you come off ball screens and when you have the ball in the mid-post. So it’s been a learning experience for sure.”