Patrick Williams immersed in playoff experience: 'You learn a lot about yourself'

Williams had his first career playoff double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday's loss.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

So is he Kawhi Leonard, a transcendent talent who can help carry a team to a championship? Or is he Meyers Leonard, an underachieving big man with more potential than production?

That's been one of the big questions and grave concerns about baby Bull Patrick Williams even in his first playoff NBA series as a 20-year-old.

The Kawhi version showed up Sunday.

Patrick Williams focused

And even as the Bulls with the 119-95 loss landed a game away from elimination in this first round NBA playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks, the promise from Williams with 20 points and 10 rebounds perhaps at least earned a relieved smile about the future.

"Especially in the playoffs nobody wants to come out and miss shots," Williams said Sunday, referring to his lonely point and nine missed shots in Game 3. "It's the first playoff run for a lot of us. You come into the series thinking of all the positives.

Patrick Williams had his first career playoff double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4.

"For sure," he said, "we knew that stuff was going to hit the fan; it wasn't all going to be perfect. But especially in your first playoff series you always think of positive, positive positive. Me, specifically, to come out 0-9, it hurt for sure. Of course, you want to perform in the playoffs. But we (also) have guys come to the bench after missing two, three shots in a row, guys dap you up, telling you that you work too hard to hang your head. It means the world to see it and know those guys have your back whether you are 0-9 or 9-9. And I've got their backs just as much."

It's been a difficult weekend for the Bulls after the 1-1 split in Milwaukee. And an even more difficult welcome to the NBA real world for the 2020 No. 4 overall draft pick from Florida State. Williams came into Sunday's game starting at power forward and mostly defending—or taking shots at it with many other Bulls—Giannis Antetokounmpo and averaging 5.3 points on 29 percent shooting and missing all nine of his 3-point attempts.

Not good when your man is outscoring you by 20 per game, though pretty much the Bulls' entire defensive plan has been devoted to surrounding and running at Giannis with multiple players. It's not working that well, though neither does it for many other teams.

Giannis floater

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 17 rebounds and 7 assists in the Bucks Game 4 victory in Chicago.

But Williams wasn't making Antetokounmpo, or anyone else, work much on defense, often passively standing in the corner or quickly giving up the ball when anyone flinched in his direction.

Until Sunday when he made consecutive baskets in the second quarter that seemed to inspire and finally relax him. Williams got on the defensive boards with enthusiasm and elan and put the ball on the floor and finished at least with step in jump shots or runners, the sort of welcome activity rarely seen from him.

Which is perhaps unfair. But since life is also unfair, why not in basketball?

Williams at 6-foot-7 and 230 lbs. looks more like a basketball player and a veteran than many veteran basketball players. Which perhaps is why so much is expected of him.

With great physical power comes great responsibility, as said by both Voltaire and Spiderman.

The flaw in the logic is not only is Williams the youngest player on the team, 18 months younger than rookie Ayo Dosunmu, but he missed most of this season with surgery for a broken wrist.

OK kid, come save us.

But then he looks like he could, which makes for the conundrum.

Which is why Bulls coach Billy Donovan has tried to inject patience and understanding as he's probably been asked about Williams during these playoffs more than any other player. Something about knowing what DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic can do. So what about this guy? They need help. Heck, he's bigger than almost everyone else on the team.

But Williams really never has been that guy.

He came off the bench in college, where he stayed just one season, and from the day he arrived with the Bulls seemed more content to be a good teammate and facilitator. He doesn't like talking about himself as much as the team dynamic. Which is encouraging from a good character and teammate perspective. But great players also have some "jerk" in them. Kawhi has showed it often in his career.

Patrick Williams

Williams is still adjusting to the NBA game after a wrist injury only allowed him to play 17 games in his second season.

"He wasn't a guy as a freshman at Florida State getting 25 every night and the ball being just directed to him," Donovan pointed out last week. "This is part of his evolution, his development. That's the hardest part for him, finding when and where all those opportunities are and how do I attack? Clearly when you've DeMar, Zach and Vooch out there, he's no question trying to find his way. So how does he fit into that and how does he take opportunities to be aggressive? He can't be a guy that's always deferring to them. That's not good for our team and that's not going to be good for his growth either. So we have to keep thrusting him into it and keep pushing him into situations to try to be aggressive.

"Obviously with the size, the physicality, the athleticism, we all understood there would be a process for him,'' Donovan said. "He wasn't just going to come onto the scene and take over (even as he looked like it). I get it, the guy was the fourth player taken in the draft...dealt with COVID, came off a wrist injury and he's 20 years old and this is his first playoff experience. These are going to be all learning and growing opportunities for him. He didn't even start for his college team and now we're throwing him out there against the best players in the world and people are saying: ‘Oh, be aggressive.' We have to keep pushing him and thrusting him into those situations as much as we can."

So there was some light Sunday for Williams amidst the darkness for the Bulls.

Patrick Williams was aggressive.

He took the shot without waiting for the defense to respond, he faked and stepped in and shot, he shrugged guys off on the defensive boards. He brought it. But can it be more habit than aberration?

Because he was so young entering the draft, the optimistic scouting report on Williams was in five years he could be the best player from that draft. Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball are a high bar to exceed. But Williams has the physical tools. He again showed at least a glimpse of the possibilities. Mirage or promise?

Patrick Williams practice

Williams' career is extremely young but the potential is there for the 2nd year forward to be great.

"I saw what it takes to win in the playoffs," Williams said Sunday about what he's getting from this series. "The experience for me and a lot of guys first playoff experience, how different it is from the regular season. It's still basketball, but such a different pace. Every game is different from Game 1 to Game 4 today in terms of flow and teams making adjustments.

"I also learned about our guys," said Williams since it's difficult for him to keep himself as the subject. "We're not going to back down. (No matter) the score on the scoreboard we're going to fight. We don't have guys who back down from adversity, from a challenge. We have guys kind of like myself that try to look at the positive of whatever situation it is. You learn a lot about yourself and your team going through the playoffs."

The Bulls hope they're learning Game 4 Patrick Williams is the one they'll see more often.

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