Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
On a Sunday night where coach Billy Donovan followed through on what he hinted at on Saturday and rested Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Alex Caruso, it seemed fitting that Torrey Craig started alongside Patrick Williams in the Bulls’ 119-102 preseason loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
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Following Saturday’s practice at the Advocate Center, Craig sounded a lot like DeRozan in assessing Williams.
“Part of my job here is to try to get as much out of him as I can. In practice, I’m going to compete with him. I’m going to talk trash to him. I’m going to be physical with him, bump him around a little bit and try to get more of a competitive edge out of him,” Craig said. “He’s kind of from the same area [in the Carolinas], like 40 minutes from where I’m from. I always knew who he was and I’m trying to get the best out of him every day.”
Sunday night wasn’t Williams’ best. But it certainly was his most aggressive offensive performance of the preseason. Williams scored 10 first-quarter points and finished with 20 on 8-for-14 shooting.
Coby White also scored 20 points for the Bulls, who close their preseason schedule with home games on Tuesday and Thursday. Donovan said on Saturday he’ll use those two games to ramp up starters’ minutes in advance of the Oct. 25 regular-season opener versus Oklahoma City, particularly now that three starters and a top reserve rested on Sunday.
Earlier in training camp, DeRozan said he wants Williams to draw his first career technical foul this season and that he’d even pay the fine because it would mean Williams is continuing to grow in terms of assertiveness.
Helping Williams reach his tantalizing potential long has been a project of DeRozan, who has included Williams in his offseason workouts near Los Angeles for two straight offseasons.
Now, Craig is on board as well.
Everyone on the Bulls knows an aggressive Williams is the best Williams, the one who can help the team reach its full potential. Even Williams.
“Consistency is going to be a big factor of it,’’ Williams said earlier in training camp. “Being more consistent rebounding, pushing the ball, being aggressive in transition, creating off the dribble, catch-and-shoots. Just a more forceful me. I’ve shown it all. Now I think it’s time to put the puzzle together.
The question is: Did Williams’ aggressive showing make that puzzle harder to figure out for Donovan?
At this point, the regular-season starting lineup is trending towards being White, LaVine, DeRozan, Williams and Vucevic. With yet another strong showing against the Nuggets, White is doing nothing to loosen the stranglehold he seemingly has on the starting point-guard spot.
But Donovan himself as far back as media day addressed the decision he faces regarding Williams, who played more aggressively down the stretch last season when Donovan replaced him as a starter with Caruso.
Keeping White and Williams together is important, not only for the chemistry they’ve formed but for the future of the franchise and player development. So it’s most likely Williams remains a starter and Donovan employs what he did in the first preseason game---taking Williams off early to stagger him and play him some minutes against opposing reserve units.
Of course, Williams can make all this analysis go by the wayside by remaining as aggressive as he was on Sunday. The next step is rebounding. With just two on Sunday, Williams now has grabbed seven rebounds in 66 preseason minutes.
The coaching staff has expressed the need for Williams to be more aggressive on the glass. While he typically is tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player and owns plenty of defensive responsibility, more rebounding would be another sign of an aggressive Williams.