Patrick Williams

Patrick Williams' slow start may force Billy Donovan to make Bulls' lineup change

Patrick Williams is off to a slow start through three games.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

In the Chicago Bulls’ first three games, Patrick Williams has played a combined 9 minutes, 35 seconds of the 41 minutes spanning fourth quarters and one overtime session.

So the fourth-year forward may be starting---for now. But he’s not finishing.

Williams avoided missing his second straight entire fourth quarter on Saturday---he also sat out all of Friday’s overtime session too---when he checked back in for 71 seconds of mop-up time in the loss to the Pistons.

“I play where I play. I’m not in charge of where I play or when I play. We have a team full of guys who can play different positions,” Williams said. “At the 4 spot, me, AC (Alex Caruso), TC (Torrey Craig), we all play in different lineups and I think that’s a strength we have. I think we can all play with whoever is out there. And I think that’s a strength of ours.”

Will Billy Donovan utilize that strength by changing the starting lineup just four games into the season on Monday when the Bulls face the hot Indiana Pacers on the road? Donovan fielded questions on both Friday and Saturday about Williams’ starting status, emphasizing that any such decision would be as reflective of the group’s impact as Williams’ early struggles.

After failing to score in 21 minutes on Saturday, Williams is averaging 3.7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.7 steals in 21.7 minutes while shooting 27.8 percent, including 11.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I think I’m at where we’re all at, trying to find a rhythm, trying to find what works and what doesn’t, taking what we see, watching film on it and learning from it,” Williams said. “Obviously, three games in, we’ve learned a lot already.”

Last season, Williams and the Bulls enjoyed some success when Donovan inserted Caruso into the starting lineup after the All-Star break and moved Williams to the second unit. Williams found chemistry with Coby White, who is also now starting, and, in general, played more freely and aggressively.

He shot 50 percent, including 45.3 percent from 3-point range, in those 17 reserve appearances and averaged 9.7 points in 24.9 minutes, only slightly below his 10.3 points-per-game average in more minutes (29.2) as a starter.

A similar move to the bench wouldn’t be surprising, and Donovan admitted the starting lineup is a fluid situation that he and his staff are monitoring.

“This is a guy who is 22, and I’m not using his age as an excuse, but he’s got a pretty long runway to continue to get better.

“Everybody’s course is different, and I try to understand that. But at the same point, we’re still trying to coach him and help him understand how he can impact the game.’’

Last week, the Bulls and Williams failed to reach terms on a rookie contract extension. The talks didn’t come close to bridging a significant gap, which sources placed at between $4.5-$6 million annually in the fluid negotiations.

When that deadline passed without a deal, Williams insisted he’d be able to put the business of basketball behind him and focus on the season. On Saturday, he insisted he’s succeeding.

“100 percent. I’m not thinking about contracts at all. I’m thinking about winning,” Williams said. “Obviously, we’re not shooting the ball extremely well but still being confident enough to take those shots and knowing what shots to take.”

Williams is a career 40.8 percent 3-point shooter, so the organization is expecting his poor start from that distance to change. The question is: Does it change as a starter or reserve?

“He’s going to be alright. Everything is a learning experience,” DeMar DeRozan said. “I never stop talking to him---if he’s playing well, if he’s playing bad, if he’s struggling or thinking too much. I look at him like a little brother and I express to him how much a journey playing in the NBA really is. He gotta learn from it. He stays ready. He works his butt off. I know all the stuff he does behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t get a chance to see. Once it clicks for him, he’ll be fine.”

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