Rookie Patrick Williams looked poised in his first regular season NBA game, dropping 16 points. He'll continue to get adjusted to playing at the professional level as he will likely start again on Saturday night vs. Indiana.
The Bulls are facing numerous questions coming into Saturday's Game 2 of their 2020-21 NBA season. Most notably rebounding (and shooting and passing) from the gruesome 124-104 loss to the Atlanta Hawks that was much worse than that.
There's the unsteadiness with Wendell Carter Jr., the leadership of Coby White, the foul trouble for Zach LaVine, the health and welfare of Denzel Valentine, Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple, the consistency of Lauri Markkanen. It's a daunting menu.
One of the few things it appears the Bulls can count on facing the Pacers is one of the youngest players in the NBA, rookie Patrick Williams.
It seems counterintuitive, but it was the 19-year-old who never started or scored 20 points in a college game who was perhaps the Bulls most poised player in the quagmire opener that became a 40-point deficit at times. Williams finished the game with 16 points, 11 in the first half, four rebounds, a steal, a block and a three pointer. Only Golden State's James Wiseman scored more points among this season's rookies in their debuts.
Patrick Williams finished with 16 points in his official NBA debut.
Michael Jordan didn't do much better, but no one is going there.
"Extremely talented," said Bulls lead scorer Zach LaVine about Williams after the first game. "You see flashes where it's like, ‘Man, this kid is going to be really good.' He brings an aggression to the game. He's extremely strong. He's got an NBA-ready body and it's something that we need. He's just going to keep getting better."
Which perhaps is the best thing the Bulls can take out of that flush-it-away opener and an indicator of the direction of the new management team. Williams is an unusually strong and versatile two-way player who excels on defense as well. His selection as the No. 4 overall pick in the draft was somewhat of a surprise the way Williams as a collegiate non-starter was barely considered a lottery pick until perhaps a month or two before the November draft. With his graceful movements for his size and Connie Hawkins-like hands big enough to palm Sunday, there were hopeful draft comparisons to Kawhi Leonard. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs saw that as they reportedly were working to land Williams during the draft process.
And then Williams impressed from the start even as he voiced tender innocence about his surroundings.
Patrick Williams dribbles against Atlanta's John Collins in Chicago's season opening game.
"Honestly, it still hasn't settled in yet," Williams said after his debut game. "Sometimes I'll just be on the sideline if I'm not in the game or sometimes just at practice, I'll look around and embrace it then: ‘I'm really in the NBA.' When I'm on the court or out there doing something, it still hasn't hit me yet. I still have those moments where I'm like, ‘I'm really here?' It really hasn't settled in all the way. I'm not sure when it will. Season is here now. I don't have time to be getting star struck and things like that. I've just been kind of playing my game and doing what I'm comfortable doing."
Which has been impressive, especially since the rookies didn't have the benefit of Summer League or a traditional training camp.
Instead, they were rushed to their teams and new cities just a few weeks after the draft. Yet, not only did Williams impress enough to earn a starting role, he apparently was the least of the concerns of Bulls coach Billy Donovan. Williams played a team most 33 minutes in the opener and was the only starter without a turnover.
"I don't really (have) personal goals," Williams said. "My personal goal is to help the team win. So all my personal goals are kind of in line with team goals. We're just trying to win, get better every day, every practice, every game. The first regular season game was just big for me for experience. I would've loved to get the win, but obviously we've got some things to work on. The physicality, I've been working on that with my coaches. They've been talking about how big my shoulders are and how big I am in general, how I can get all the way to the rim at times. We've been working on that pretty much every day. Credit to my guys who tell me to be aggressive and get to the rim and to the free throw line because that's what we needed."
Williams is unusual for a rookie in appearance. No wide eyes, but more than that. He doesn't look like a teenager nor someone who was uncertain leaving the cocoon of collegiate comfort. He's a sturdy 6-8 and 225 pounds and looks like a veteran of many seasons with broad shoulders and strong legs. Yet he moves gracefully. Stormy, husky, brawling; Carl Sandburg might have written poetry about his rectitude and audacity. Dare a young man make it looks so easy?
Williams started at small forward with Otto Porter Jr. coming off the bench, a likely continuation. Though they were paired together often in the second quarter, Williams even defending guards at times. Williams on offense mostly was stationed in the baseline corners and not asked to do much ball handing or playmaking. But he was stable and sure with the ball.
His first shot attempt early in the game was a score when a pick and roll between White and Markkanen was blown up. White fired to Williams in the left corner. The rookie faked John Collins and beat him baseline for a short finish and score. The game was quickly getting away from the Bulls with the Hawks defy moving the ball with Trae Young's elegant orchestration. LaVine and White began scoring like an NFL team falling behind, going for long shots with some early desperation. Though the high scoring guard duo did convert in five consecutive possessions to give the Bulls hope.
But the Hawks continued the onslaught. Williams was mostly floating into open spots to make himself available. He got the ball again with Atlanta up 11 late in the first. He smoothly squared for a shot and was fouled, easing both free throws in as the nets barely flinched.
Zach LaVine had 22 points against Atlanta but struggled with foul trouble.
LaVine did what he could to start the second quarter and get the Bulls deficit back under 10 for a few moments, though he was thwarted by foul trouble trying to contain Young. It's not the ideal assignment for LaVine, but worth a try early in the season to test his improved defensive play. Hawks free agent Bogan Bogdanovic came open for three straight scores as the Hawks made a trio of threes in about a minute as the game was waving goodbye to the Bulls midway through the second quarter. Though Williams wasn't deterred.
He ran out in transition after a Hawks miss and pulled up for an 18 footer on a Ryan Arcidiacono pass for a score, Williams mid range game and composure smooth as ice. Following a trio of Bulls misses, he bookended his jumper with another as he dribbled into rhythm for his shot. Later in the quarter as the Bulls were on the way to yielding an unwieldy 83 first half points, Williams circled above the arc on the right and took a pass from a probing White for his first three.
Williams finished his first professional first half with 11 points on four of six shooting and an "is that all" insouciance that belied his intense work habits and determined nature.
"Just learning as much as I can," said Williams. "I had no summer league, barely a training camp. So just picking everybody's brain as much as I can, learning as much as I can. Not only through experience, but through their experience."
It's been an experience already just to watch this rookie.