There, LaVine, a 2021 National Team member who competed with the Select Team as a 21-year old in 2016, passed a bit of advice down to the rookie.
“He (LaVine) definitely encouraged me to be a sponge around those guys,” Williams said. “He pretty much told me how much he learned when he was on the Select Team and how great of an experience that was for him and how that propelled him forward to be the player he is now. He just encouraged me to kind of get out of my comfort zone and ask questions.”
Not only has Williams done that, LaVine said in an appearance on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast that the 19-year-old, and youngest player in camp, has acquitted himself “extremely well” on the court while training and scrimmaging against the National Team.
"First day, there's a lot of guys for the Select Team, I think they had a little bit more players than we did. And he got in, got some run in,” LaVine said, before adding with a smile: “He got matched up with me a couple of times, unfortunately… You know, I do what I do.
“But the next day, Pat was incredible. (He) was scoring, defending, went and smacked one of my shots off the backboard out of nowhere. I didn't even know where he came from. I had like a wide-open, fast break and he came and blocked me. (He) was hitting some pull-ups, guarded everybody well, got some blocks. So he looked really, really good. And then the last two scrimmages as well, really strong play.”
Of course, there’s no way to fully verify LaVine’s account of events. With COVID-19 restrictions still in effect, team practices were closed to media and spectators. Brief clips circulated by USA Basketball social media accounts also showed Williams matched up with Jayson Tatum, which jibes with his versatile defensive skill set.
Select Team – and Miami Heat – head coach Erik Spoelstra pointed to Williams’ physical gifts and multi-dimensionality when asked for early impressions of him at the beginning of training camp, saying he is “set up in the future to be a great two-way basketball player.”
Crucially for a player that struggled to assert himself as a scorer in Year 1, Spoelstra also noted growth in Williams’ offensive game from the end of the regular season. LaVine echoed that sentiment.
“He just looks a lot more comfortable,” LaVine said of Williams. “And this is just like anybody younger in the league when you start trying to develop your game and figure out who you are as a player. We all go through it. And I think, for him, experience is, number one, the biggest teacher. The more and more you get to play and understand and be out there.
“I was with him a lot. I just told him to take it, take the experience and go out here and just try to kill. Now, obviously don't play outside yourself, go just try to shoot every time, that's not you. But show them why you're here. He's an incredible athlete, an incredibly strong defender, can score when he wants to, but then can also facilitate. He's an all-around player.”
This is all easy to say based on practice reps. But the Bulls hope Williams’ Select Team experience can springboard his development moving forward.
It certainly did for LaVine, who credited at least part of his incremental growth into an All-Star level player to the opportunity to be around said environment early on in his career.
“It (being on the Select Team) just showed obviously where you are compared to your peers and then how much further you have to go to get to that next stage,” LaVine said. “Because you're with All-NBA players, All-Star level guys, future Hall-of-Famers. In my case, we're playing against the 2016 Olympic team. So, you're playing against the top guys in the league.
“So it just shows: I'm here now, which is good. How do I get to that next step?”
From here, the answer to that question is in Williams’ hands.