Veteran Thaddeus Young has pretty much seen it all in the NBA, surpassing the 1,000 games played milestone this season with the Bulls. He has served as a mentor for the young players on the roster, including 19-year-old Patrick Williams, who detailed to reporters on Monday just how great of a player he wants to be in this league.
Thad Young has been, especially this season, something of the eminence grise of the Bulls, the wily old veteran player with a coaching mentality who offers a word of advice or two for the kids in the locker room, a direction or two on the court from where to be to what to do and when.
This all while Young was been navigating his 14th NBA season, now more than 1,000 games and still coming off one of his most productive seasons in five years. Coach Billy Donovan has been telling him he could play another five years, which is probably unlikely at 32 while raising a family and building a business of private investments. Young has one season left on his three-year Bulls contract he intends to fulfill, assuming the Bulls guarantee his final season. That still remains uncertain with free agency and roster decisions ahead.
Young has come to embrace this Bulls team with the hirings of Donovan and new managers, Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley.
"I think they did a phenomenal job in getting Billy and Billy putting together a great staff," said Young. "As well as AK and Marc making trades. I think they did a phenomenal job on trade day in making those trades. And getting the guys we need to kind of help this team as well as just being two guys I can go and talk to in any point in time when I need to and the same as any of my teammates. So I think the leadership and everything is the right direction and right place and it's going to be great going forward because they are about the team, the culture and all about winning and all about doing the right things."
Thaddeus Young's end-of-season press conference with Chicago media.
So what's that next step for the Bulls? Zach LaVine's continued improvement to two-way sniper? Nikola Vucevic toward a third straight All-Star game? The free agent market? Trades? Tell us, oh wise one.
"We need Pat to continue to be aggressive," Young said about rookie Patrick Williams. "I think we have the pieces. I think we just need Pat to take his game to the next level. Pat is a phenomenal player already at the age of 19; he has a lot of physical attributes that most 19-year-olds don't have. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor, he has the ability to shoot the three, he has the ability to hover over people and get floaters off. And he's a phenomenal defender as well. I think with time and more understanding of the game he's going to continue to be great."
Forget that a little child shall lead them verse. It's not Isiah. And this NBA isn't always peaceful kingdom. But this young man truly could reign some day.
"I asked him last night, ‘Do you want to be great?'" Young related. "He (Williams) said, ‘Yes, I do want to be great.' He asked ‘What do I need to do to be great?' I said in games like this (against the Bucks Sunday) you have Zach and Vooch out. So this is your shot. You have to believe that. So when they put a guy like Jeff Teague or any guard on you, I shouldn't have to say ‘Oh, we've got a mismatch.' You should be calling your own mismatch out and you should be taking advantage of that and being aggressive. If you want to be great, that's what the great players do. They impose their will on the game at all points in the game and he has to do that a little bit more than he's done this season. I understand it's his first year. But he's shown us and the Bulls fans so much in this first year of what he can be to the point where his standards should be set even higher next year and he should understand he can be a top two or three guy on this team."
And there's your Big Three?
Rookie Patrick Williams lends a hand to 14-year veteran Thaddeus Young during a January game against Portland.
Williams is indeed, an enigma, though as a 19-year-old rookie about to attend his first Summer League this August, it's obviously too soon to expect too much.
But that's been also what's so promising and frustrating about this past Bulls season.
The 6-8 rookie is a physical force, graceful with a soft shot and more unaware of his potential brilliance than he should be.
Young points to one of the more remarkable plays of the season, Williams blocking Suns center Deandre Ayton attempting a lob dunk and then casually cradling the ball and dribbling up court.
No screaming, no posing. Heck, not even aware how special.
"We thought that was one of the most amazing blocks ever and he was like, 'Was it?'" recalled Young. "And I was like ‘Yeah, if you don't think it was incredible, go look at Twitter and go look at Instagram and you're gonna see all the comments on it.' He's just one of those guys that he has so many physical tools that it's just all natural to him. I think that's the fun part about having somebody like Pat. That's, I think, what's gonna make him into a monster because he's doing stuff now that he's already physically gifted to do. And when he gets that killer mindset in him, it's gonna be trouble for a lot of people."
And then there's the want to.
Williams this season—right, he's only 19—repeatedly has said scoring isn't natural for him and he actually prefers to be something of a helper, playing defense, passing, moving, enjoying the team concept. It's why he was the rare top five draft pick who never started in college. And never complained about it.
Can someone like that ever become that killer Young suggests?
Perhaps he doesn't have to get all the way to the Jordan or Kobe or LeBron level. Williams has been likened often to Kawhi Leonard for the similarity of their hand and body sizes and phlegmatic attitude and games.
Leonard grew out of it somewhat to become a Finals MVP and team leader.
Some scouts before this draft said Williams wouldn't contend for rookie of the year, and he's likely not even going to be all-rookie. But five years from now he could be the best player from this 2020 draft on a Leonard-like career path.
Just in time to help LaVine and Vucevic to the heady reaches of the playoff brackets?
"This is my first season so everything was pretty much new," Williams said during his video Zoom session with media Monday. "Now that I have the gist of what the NBA is about, to have that in my mind and that experience going into the summer, it's going to be huge for me and for this team. I didn't have training camp. Preseason was kind of short. So I was kind of thrown right into the fire."
Patrick Williams' end-of-season press conference with Chicago media.
Williams led the Bulls in games played and among rookies was second playing 71 of the 72 games, vital and unusual in this era of frequently missed games. Attendance now is a skill. Williams also was the Bulls primary defender against the scoring stars of the league, playing against the likes of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. Williams spoke humbly about the difficulty of challenging those players. And then mentioned his doppelgänger.
"Kawhi, that was a very fun game for me, just to see him get to his spots, which are also my spots," Williams said. "And kind of how he played and how he carried himself throughout the game. That definitely stuck with me.
"The last couple of games coach has been on me about catching the ball, looking at the rim first and making sure that if I can shoot that I shoot it," Williams admitted. "He has confidence in me, my teammates have confidence in me. That's definitely the thing I've been working on, for sure. I really think I can be as good as I want to be. I think I have the talent, the size, the strength, the athleticism; I pretty much have it all."
Which was another first for Williams, that being the first time he almost sounded like a star.
"For me, it's more mental than anything," he admitted. "I have to learn how to control my mentality and to really dial in 100 percent mentally. I think that will make me the player that I want to be and that I need to be. I want to be known as one of the greats in this league. I think I have all the tools I need to be able to do that. Skill, athleticism, pretty much everything that I need. And then also when you have a coaching staff, a front office and good teammates that have your back, I mean I have everything on my side. It's just up to me to put the work in each and every day, focus in on the goal at hand. Just be as good as I want to be. The ball is in my court. I definitely want to be great in this league."
Maybe Thad will stick around for those five years. That would be something to see.