Williams found silver linings in five-month rehab


It would be easy for Patrick Williams to complain, and it would be difficult to blame him.

His first NBA season was far from normal. Without the benefit of Summer League or a full training camp, he was thrust into the Chicago Bulls' starting lineup for 71 of 72 games, and put together a second-team All-Rookie campaign.

Year Two began with promise. A few weeks of workouts practicing with the sport's best as a USA Basketball Select Team member. A productive, three-game Summer League stint that saw him embrace a heliocentric offensive role.

But a sprained ankle sidelined Williams for most of camp and the preseason. Then, after five off-kilter games, a traumatic wrist injury sidelined him from Oct. 28 until March 21, when he is slated to return for a home match-up with the Toronto Raptors.

Still, the second-year forward spun a would-be negatives into positives in his first session with reporters since his surgery.

"It's tough," Williams said of his five-month rehab process. "But it's a lot tougher if you don't have the group of guys that we have, you don't have the coaching staff that we have. They've always made sure that I was good mentally, before physically, throughout the whole process."

That includes Williams' teammates, whose energy was a resource during the doldrums. That includes head coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls' player development staffers, who guided him through every phase of workouts. It even includes Donovan's wife, who Williams said baked him cookies.

"It's really been everybody from top to bottom," Williams said.

The silver linings don't stop there. Williams said he relished the opportunity to continue traveling with the team and staying involved in group meals and practices. His time away from the court also afforded him extra time for film study, which he noted gave him a fresh perspective on the game.

"When you get injured, the first thing your mind goes to is you can’t play basketball," Williams said. "I told the coaching staff I just wanted to continue to get better even when I was not playing. [Donovan] was telling me that through film and through studying the game, when you come back you can be 10 times smarter, 10 times better than where you were when you left.

"So definitely just kind of getting lost in that as well, film study and picking guys brains. On this team we have a lot of guys with a lot of experience who have been really good in this league for awhile. Kind of picking their brain on, when they're watching film, what do they see? What are they looking for offensively, defensively, things like that. What are you looking for in the scout? And picking the coaches brains, going over the scouting reports. It’s just been really helpful for me just to see a different aspect of basketball not only on the court."

Williams reported no pain in his wrist after a week of practices with the big league Bulls and the organization's G League affiliate. But that film study will come in handy as he re-acclimates to reading in-game situations at full speed.

That is the real disappointment of Williams' 65-game absence: The loss of reps. Those are important for any player, but especially one who, at 20 years old, was still finding his footing in the league before factoring injury into the equation.

Still, Williams doesn't look at his second professional season as a lost one.

"No, it definitely doesn’t feel like a lost season because I learned so much," he said. "I didn't learn, of course, on the court. But from the film, just from being around the team, from watching the games on the sidelines, being able to pick apart different things that you can’t really see when you’re playing."

And besides, it's behind him now. Monday brings a return to competition, which he said he badly missed in his time away. While Williams is beyond the days of being nervous before games, he said he's expecting some butterflies when he steps in front of a jam-packed United Center for the first time in quite a while.

"I’ll probably have a couple," he conceded. "They kind of shake off in the first (quarter). When the ball goes up, the ball goes up."

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