Patrick Williams eager to return, may play Friday in preseason finale

The sophomore has been out since late September with a severe ankle sprain.
by Sam Smith
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Body

They're putting the band back together.

There's 140 hours to opening day, they're undefeated, unfortunately the Cavs are only on the schedule four times, but it feels like a new day. Hit it!

Perhaps finally with Patrick Williams, the injured power forward who might return in Friday's exhibition season close in the United Center against the Memphis Grizzlies. Williams has been out since late September with a severe ankle sprain.

His return would enable the presumptive starting five to play together for the first time in advance of the regular season opener Oct. 20 in Detroit. Guard Coby White, who had shoulder surgery June 10, is expected to be out at least another month, said Bulls coach Billy Donovan.

White is expected to come off the bench in his return with the offseason additions of Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan. They will join holdovers Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic in the starting lineup with Williams upon the latter's return. Williams returned to full practices this week.

"I'm very hopeful, very confident as well (about playing Friday)," Williams told reporters after practice Wednesday in the Advocate Center. "Sitting out for me is the worst. Definitely not something I want to get used to. Every game since the first preseason game I've been kind of asking like, 'Is today the day? Is today the day?' But I'm just trusting them. Don't want to rush it back and get hurt again and now you're out for another two, three, four weeks. Just trusting them. They've been around this game and the league a lot longer than I have. Although I'm young and I feel like I can play again, just trusting them and their expertise.

"It's not a clear cut answer," Williams added. "I wish it was. I wish I could say yeah (I'm playing) and mean it 100 percent. But it's just a day by day thing, seeing how I react to practices and workout days. These preseason games that I've missed have been killing me. I'm not really a guy that gets injured. I'm not an injury-prone guy. So missing any games, watching them fight, it never sits well with me. Just relying on my youthfulness. And then the staff we have over there. It's all about kind of how I'm feeling, how my ankle reacts from practice days and workout days, things like that. So there's really no timetable to exactly tell when it will be perfect to come back, but it's just a matter of time and seeing how I react.''

Patrick Williams throws down a dunk against the Toronto Raptors during the 2020-21 season.

Patrick Williams throws down a dunk against the Toronto Raptors during the 2020-21 season.

Though it does appear like Williams is about to rejoin the Bulls starting quintet. Perhaps Friday and, it seems, certainly by Wednesday.

With the initial four-to-six weeks expected recovery, Williams appears on schedule and supposedly has been moving well in practice. Though the Bulls have gotten unusually good production from smaller, substitute power forwards like Javonte Green and Alize Johnson, the team is anxious to work with the size and bulk of Williams and his excellent spot up three-point shooting to space the floor. Plus, Williams, who often played on the perimeter as a rookie last season, will move more into an interior position to help counter the Bulls size challenges.

"I thought he looked good out there (Wednesday)," Donovan said.

(The Bulls are holding a virtual open practice 4 p.m. Thursday, so perhaps everyone will get a look).

"I didn't know what to expect," said Donovan. "I think playing on Monday (in practice) helped him today. Because he certainly had some ups and downs on Monday, just the first time going against contact and working through the kinks of not playing for awhile. But I think defensively, we're going to need him to be incredibly versatile and guard a lot of different people.

"The medical staff deserves a lot of credit," Donovan added. "I think Patrick deserves a lot of credit. They put a lot of time and effort into it over the past few weeks. I think at the point of the sprain, not really sure where it would go. He was pretty diligent with the rehab. And then Monday was a good day for him going against some of the player development guys with contact. And then he responded on Tuesday. He got cleared to practice today. We'll see how he does (Thursday) morning. I think the biggest thing always for the medical guys is to see how he will respond the next day. So if responds well, he'll practice again on Thursday. And if he responds well, we feel pretty optimistic that he'd be able to participate in the last preseason game. A lot is going to depend on how his ankle is responding."

Donovan, however, wasn't quite as sanguine about White.

"I would say we'd probably have a better feel in maybe another month," Donovan responded to a question about Whites return. "I think maybe another month to see can he get….going. Besides him being cleared to shoot and to dribble and to pass, he's really, really got to work on his range of motion and his strength in his range of motion. Those are the things that are going on on a daily basis. So he's not even in a position to do any contact at all. There's no contact for him in the foreseeable future. So when I sit there and say a month, it's not necessarily that he's going to be a month (out from) being cleared to play. It would probably be a month before they actually make some decisions on, ‘Hey listen, can this guy actually go out there and endure and play against contact?' Maybe it's not a month, maybe it's three weeks, maybe it's four weeks. Whatever it is, I still think he's a ways away from contact."

Which is unfortunate for White, especially, after he averaged 17.6 points and shot 40 percent on threes after getting back in the starting lineup the last 18 games of the season. With the offseason additions, he probably was going back to the bench. But several national publications predicted White could be Sixth Man of the Year playing with Alex Caruso and with Donovan rotating starters.

It appears Donovan will have to play some of the scoring starters with reserves in various roles until White returns. But the Bulls also have gotten good preseason production from several of the bench players.

The bigger issue is the potential return of Williams to complete the starting five. The Bulls in Summer League put Williams through a crash course of forced aggressive offensive play to help him fit better with the new starters. Williams defended most of the best perimeter players last season and is considered perhaps the best or second best defender among the starters with Ball. So his return will be welcome.

Patrick Williams slams home a big dunk during a Bulls Summer League game.

Patrick Williams slams home a big dunk during a Bulls Summer League game.

"Nothing really replicates basketball shape," Williams noted. "I think it will take a couple days for me to get back into basketball shape. But the work that I put in off the court on the treadmill or on the bike or elliptical, things like that, it will make it easier just to get in basketball shape. I feel good as far as where I'm at. I think we have a lot of length defensively from one through five no matter who is on the court. We're super athletic defensively. So just being at the right position at the right time, and kind of being vocal defensively. We're playing fast. We're getting out in transition. We have a lot of guys who can score the ball, so there's going to be a lot of kick out opportunities for me, catch and shoot. Playing with guys like this, it makes the game super easy for me. Hopefully, I can make it easier for them as well."

It's just about everyone hitting the right notes. They're on a mission for AK.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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