Bulls' Patrick Williams Earns High Praise Amid Whirlwind Rookie Transition

What the Bulls are saying: Patrick Williams ‘gets it’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

You don’t have to pry much to find a Chicago Bull with complimentary things to say about Patrick Williams.

“An unbelievable talent,” Otto Porter Jr. called him.

“He gets it,” said Coby White.

“The kid can play,” added Chandler Hutchison.

Yes, as Williams stares down his regular-season NBA debut on Dec. 23 -- just 35 days after the Bulls selected him fourth overall in the Nov. 18 draft -- he has earned some fans around the Advocate Center.

Why? Well, Williams’ promise is multi-faceted. On the floor, Billy Donovan, Artūras Karnišovas and players alike fawn over his NBA-ready physique, defensive versatility and offensive upside. 

He's going to be a really good player if he reaches his full potential,” Garrett Temple said. “I think he was probably the sleeper in the draft.”

And by all accounts, Williams is a sponge, eager to soak up any and every kernel of insight from those around him to better facilitate his transition to the professional level. He said on draft night that the rookies from the 2020 class that assimilate most effectively amid adverse circumstances -- no summer league, abridged training camps, a global pandemic and have we mentioned he turned 19 in August? -- will be the ones who ask the most questions and learn the best.

“The thing I’ve been really impressed with is getting a chance to meet his family. Getting a chance to spend some time with him,” Donovan said. He’s a great kid. Extremely humble. I think, hard-working. Wants to learn. Wants to get better.”

In pursuit of improvement, Williams also said those successful rooks will be the ones fortunate enough to have veterans willing to accommodate them.

We’re all behind him and we all want to see him succeed, so the whole team has taken him under their wing and really just gave him advice. The dos and don’ts, and what to look forward to during his short time, because he had a very short time to prepare for this season,” said White, who, having known Williams since their AAU days in their shared home state of North Carolina, counseled him through the predraft process.

RELATED: Williams talks bond with Coby White: ‘He’s been a big help’

From on-court pointers, to internalizing fresh terminology, to poring over playsheets, to learning all-new offensive and defensive schemes, to adjusting to the pace of the professional level, to adjusting to the rigors of the professional lifestyle -- from dieting to finding an apartment -- it’s certainly been a crash course.

“What haven’t I learned?” Williams quipped after Tuesday practice. “A lot from the vets. In practice, they’ll be talking about something that I have no clue what it is. I just ask, ‘OK, What is this?’ And they’ll break it down to me… Coming here every day getting the work in, learning how to be a pro. It’s been exciting for me.”

Thad Young memorably said Williams has “some of the biggest hands I’ve ever seen” for a 19-year-old and that his 3-and-D skillset could foretell a lengthy playing career. But Williams’ game, again, fell second to his intangibles.

“He’s been great so far. He learns. He listens. He comes to work each and every day,” Young said. “I know it’s been a short period of time with him, but you can see it in him. You can see that he wants it.”

And Young has seen his fair share of rookies in his 14 NBA seasons.

Humility. Curiosity. Nose-to-the-grindstone ethic. The above sentiments represent about as impressive a first impression as a just-turned 19-year-old could make, and we’ve hardly touched on, you know, basketball. Williams’ virtues as a person bleed into his virtues as a player.

He's definitely come up to me, ask a million questions already,” Porter said. “Which is very good for us, especially in his development.”

Porter is exactly right to call what’s good for Williams good for the Bulls. Thin on athletic, two-way wings to begin with, the team this offseason lost its two best perimeter defenders from a year ago in Kris Dunn (signed with the Atlanta Hawks) and Shaq Harrison (still on the market).

Asked after Monday practice about in-house solutions in that department, Williams was the first name out of Donovan’s mouth.

He’s got a physical presence, he moves his feet. Florida State has always been a good program defensively. Leonard Hamilton and his staff do a great job. He’s got a really good base coming in here,” Donovan said. “He certainly has a lot of great tools defensively in terms of his ability to recover and get through screens and get over pick-and-rolls. That’s going to be important for us for the growth and development of this team is how much can he evolve defensively.”

His teammates sound confident in that evolution coming to fruition.

Wendell Carter Jr.: “He's fantastic on the defensive end, which is something I love about any player… I feel like we can definitely make some noise in the frontcourt for sure.”

Chandler Hutchison: “I think he’s going to be big for our team with what we want to do, being able to switch, being versatile.”

Lauri Markkanen: “I’ve seen how well he plays defense, how physical he is for a 19-year-old. It’s pretty impressive to see. I wish I was like that at that age.”

Tomáš Satoranský: “He’s a great defender. I saw him in practice. He’s definitely going to help us.”

Donovan cited Williams’ handling, passing, size and multi-positional defensive ability as attributes that should translate to the pros in time. Williams is confident all facets of his game will translate, an extension of his can-do attitude. 

“My path (to playing time) is whatever path coach gives me,” he said. “Whatever he wants me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”

While Donovan isn’t yet ready to commit to a specific ramp-up plan for Williams’ minutes, it’s a reasonable assumption that said path may well be forged on the defensive end and through hustle plays. Williams wreaked havoc as a passing-lane disruptor and weak-side shot-blocker running a fluid, switch-based scheme at Florida State. He was also a high-motor offensive rebounder.

“He’s got a good nose for the ball,” Donovan said. “He’s got that kind of athleticism.”

Ultimately, it comes down to one all-encompassing -- albeit nebulous -- quality, in Donovan’s eyes.

“The biggest thing for me with young players is the reliability piece,” Donovan said after Sunday’s practice. “If guys are reliable in terms of, you know what you’re getting from them, in terms of their effort, their concentration and their focus, I think you’re going to be able to live and understand that there’s going to be mistakes that are made just through growth.”

In the same breath, Donovan also dispelled what he considers a popular but misguided notion that offense is what earns young players opportunity early in their careers. Look no further than Luguentz Dort as evidence of that belief; Dort began last season on a two-way deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but by the bubble was starting games, averaging nearly 30 minutes and shouldering primary defensive responsibilities on James Harden in the playoffs. And before his Game 7 eruption against the Rockets, he was nearly a non-factor on offense.

“That’s the reliability piece I’m talking about,” Donovan said. “Lu Dort, I think in Game [5], 3-for-1[6], maybe, from the field. But totally reliable on defense every single possession. Unbelievably disciplined. He was that way during the whole series. As a coach, you build up a lot of trust in a player like that because you know what you’re getting.”

Williams, again, is ready for anything.

My job is to go out there and contribute anyway I can. For sure that’s defense, for sure that’s making my plays on offense. Whatever I can do,” Williams said. “If coach says, ‘Guard the best player,’ then I’m guarding the best player. If he says, ‘Guard the worst player,’ then I’m doing that as well. I’m just out there to contribute, and for sure my defense is something I rely on day in and day out.”

Like seemingly everyone around the Bulls these days, Williams is saying and doing all the right things. For him, the stakes have never been higher.

“It can get hectic, if you let it,” he said of his whirlwind transition. “I’ve just been worried about getting in every day and getting better. I’ve been focused on the court, because everything else off the court is going 100 miles per hour. 

“If you just focus on getting better every day in the gym then everything else will take care of itself.

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