Why Bulls need Williams to be more aggressive offensively originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Just over midway through the first quarter of the Bulls’ 108-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night, Patrick Williams took a pass from Tomáš Satoranský on the wing, sized up defender Kevin Huerter and took two left-handed dribbles before attacking Clint Capela at the rim.
Capela, who ranks fourth in the NBA with 2.1 blocks per game, fouled Williams as he powered home a left-handed dunk.
Asked about the sequence afterward, Williams shrugged.
“It was just a basketball play to me,” the rookie said. “I don’t really get riled up out there on the court. I’m more happy in the plays like a drive-and-kick or I’m driving and I have two close to me and I’m able to kick it out and the guy shoots it or he plays drive-and-kick as well. Just making the right play. That’s I think a strength of mine and a strength of this team. We always try to make the right play.
“So I just try to fit into that. Just whenever the opportunity is there, I try to be aggressive and insert myself a little bit and make the right play.”
The opportunity was there Saturday night. Nikola Vučević, who has a sore hip, joined Zach LaVine, who remains in the league’s health and safety protocols, as out. That’s a lot of offense in street clothes.
But in perhaps a microcosm of Williams’ tantalizing rookie season, he scored 15 points in the first half, including that dunk, and just four in the second. He shot over 50 percent from the floor, made the right play more often than not and contributed his typically steady and physical defense.
But is it enough?
If the current plan of the new management regime is going to work, Williams, the fourth overall pick as Artūras Karnišovas’ first draft selection, needs to become an elite, two-way player. He needs to reach his full potential.
“Pat is very athletic. I think he has a chance of being a really, really good player in this league, a star-type player. It’s just a matter of how bad he wants it,” said veteran Thad Young, who has seen a thing or two. “And I think he wants it.”
But in the next breath, Young needed only one word to answer whether he thinks there are times Williams is too timid offensively.
“Yes,” he said, before elaborating. “It’s plenty of times where I’m talking to him telling him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be aggressive.’ Same thing with Coach (Billy) Donovan. He’s saying the same thing to him, ‘Hey, be aggressive. We’re putting the ball in your hands.’ Or, ‘We’re giving you the ball for a reason. So use it. Get downhill. Use your body. Use your hands. Do the things that you do. And do the things that have gotten you to this point.’ When he’s aggressive, it makes us a better team.”
Williams’ 19 points marked his first time in double figures since April 17. His 13 shots marked his most since March 29, and ties for his second-highest total of the season.
Obviously, when Vučević and LaVine are healthy, they are the primary options. But there’s a fine line between wanting to make the right play and fading into the background. And Williams has wobbled on that tightrope most of this season.
“I think we all get lost in the fact that he’s a kid. He’s still a teenager. He’s 19 years old. We try to instill adult-like stuff into him. Sometimes guys are ready for that, and sometimes guys are not,” Young said. “Pat is at a stage where he’s still learning. And we’re still grooming and still teaching him a lot of different things. Some of the stuff that he does that we think is spectacular, he doesn’t even know is spectacular. He just thinks it’s just a regular play that he’s done. And we’re, like, ‘No, that was amazing. Whatever you just did, keep doing more of that.’ And he’s, like, ‘Oh, OK.’ And you’re, like, ‘That’s what’s going to make him good because he thinks the things that he can do physically are normal things.’ It’s not to some of us on this team and around the league.”
While praising Williams’ team-first attitude, Donovan also made it clear he seeks more from the rookie.
“I’ve always felt like every level you go up in the game of basketball whether you go from high school to college, college to the NBA the hardest thing to learn is when do I shoot and when do I pass. And when do I go be aggressive,” Donovan said. “Patrick’s always been a very, very unselfish team-oriented player. And as a young guy at 19 years old, there are times when he tries to be aggressive and it doesn’t work out well and maybe he will back away just because he’s a team guy. And there are other times I just try to thrust him into it and say, ‘You have to be aggressive'... I would like for him to do more.”
Williams, who is averaging 9.2 points in 28.2 minutes over 63 starts, openly admits that finding this balance can be a struggle at times for him.
“It’s definitely not natural,” he said.
In fact, to show where his mindset is, he said scoring is just a “small, small, small part of the game.” And, yes, he said “small” three times.
“Everybody kind of looks at scoring as a big piece of it. But honestly, every team scores. And if you can’t get stops, then you won’t be able to win,” William said. “So I’m trying to focus on the defensive end. Of course, try to be aggressive offensively and pick my spots and get to my spots and make plays offensively that I know I have to make and the team knows that I can make. But it’s an even game, offense and defense. So you can’t just focus on offense.”
Williams, of course, is right. But so are Young and Donovan for wanting him to focus more on offense.
Overall, he has had an admirable rookie season. He has handled everything thrown his way without complaint. He has missed just one game. He has defended. He has focused on winning. He has worked.
Is it enough?
The reason that’s a valid question is because of what the Bulls need Williams to be -- perhaps not this season, but certainly in the future.