The Chicago Bulls surprised a lot of people when they drafted Florida State’s Patrick Williams with the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The surprises continued when Bulls head coach Billy Donovan decided to start Williams over Otto Porter Jr. at the outset of the 2020-21 season.
Williams proceeded to start all 71 games he played in his rookie season, all while the lineup shifted around him thanks to trades, benchings and injuries. The 19-year-old didn’t always succeed and has a lot of room to grow after a predictably uneven first NBA campaign, but he embraced the challenges thrown at him and is a breakout candidate in Year 2. He holds a key to the Bulls’ future, whether he’s on the team or not.
Williams’ rookie numbers don’t look all that impressive. He averaged 9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 27.9 minutes per game. He shot 48.3% from the field and 39.1% on 3-pointers while remaining rather steady on those fronts all season, but on very low volume as the rookie was often too hesitant to look for his own offense. Upping his aggressiveness and usage will require both a change in his own mindset and a focus from Chicago’s coaching staff as they work on developing his game.
Donovan stuck with Williams in the starting lineup despite the Bulls getting outscored by over seven points per 100 possessions in the rookie’s nearly 2,000 minutes of action, per NBA.com. While he showed flashes on both ends of the court, his tentativeness on offense and overall inexperience often hurt Chicago. The Bulls were prone to slow starts all season, and while Williams wasn’t solely to blame, he did play a role in them.
The hope is Williams will learn from his rookie mistakes and make a big leap sooner rather than later. He took his lumps as one of the youngest players in the NBA, constantly going up against the biggest stars in the league. The teenager drew plenty of praise from those stars he tried and usually failed to stop, and the goal for him is to become a stopper who brings a versatile offensive package to the table.
Williams already has a nifty mid-range game, an effective 3-point shot and a smart ability to score off cuts, so now he’ll have to expand everything and do it on a larger scale while expanding his game. Donovan had Williams run the occasional pick-and-roll, and he didn’t totally flounder. The Kawhi Leonard comparisons are a bit much, but the skill set is there for him Williams to be very impactful.
Chicago needs him to be, assuming he sticks around and isn’t traded away for a more ready-made star. The Bulls will look to retool their roster more this offseason after acquiring another All-Star in Nikola Vucevic to pair with Zach LaVine before the trade deadline, but Williams’ development will be crucial to determining their ceiling.
Williams definitely shouldn’t be untouchable in trade talks, as good as he may be in the future. With LaVine currently on target to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 (barring an extension this offseason) and Vucevic turning 31 before next season, their timelines don’t exactly match up with Williams’ unless he makes a major leap quickly. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it would be understandable to use Williams as a trade chip to get a true impact player who would help Chicago win now. The youngster is arguably their best trade asset they can use to build around their two All-Stars after trading two first-round picks for Vucevic.
A Williams trade would have to be for a very, very good player, though, and preferably one on the younger side so it’s a long-term play as well as a short-term one. It’s unclear just who will be available on the trade market in the offseason, but the Bulls should keep an eye on the Toronto Raptors to see if they’re open to trading somebody like Pascal Siakam. The Raptors star would slot in nicely as a two-way stud who works better as a No. 2 or No. 3 scoring option rather than as the top dog. The Bradley Beal trade rumors could heat up again as well, even with the Washington Wizards reaching the playoffs. There will be other names that pop up on the market.
If Williams sticks around, it will be interesting to see how Donovan deploys him next season. Some of this will depend on what upgrades the Bulls make and how their roster is constructed. Will he get more opportunities with the ball in his hands? Will he be the starting small forward or power forward? Will he continue to get the toughest defensive assignments?
There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding Williams and his role moving forward, and he’s going to play a key part in Chicago’s success, or lack thereof, in the future.