Williams shows two-way growth in win vs. Clippers


If Patrick Williams’ performance in the Chicago Bulls’ Thursday night win over the Clippers wasn’t the most complete of his young career, it’s in the conversation. 

With 10 points and 12 rebounds, he posted his fourth double-double in 83 NBA appearances. He answered a halftime promotion to the Bulls’ first unit by providing consistent defensive impact (two blocks, one steal) and high-leverage shotmaking. And he did it all in a career-high 37 minutes, including 16:47 of a possible 17 minutes between the fourth quarter and overtime.

“Those types of games, everybody wants to be in,” Williams told reporters afterwards. “Those are the games we work for. Those are the games all your hard work pays off. The blowouts are cool, but the down-to-the-wire, gritty games, those are the ones that mean the most."

The context underpinning Williams’ outing makes it all the more impressive. He logged that lofty minutes total in just his seventh game back from a five-month, wrist injury induced absence, and two nights after Billy Donovan publicly challenged him to earn a larger rotation role with more consistent, aggressive play.

In fact, Donovan — along with DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso and Tristan Thompson — was in Williams’ ear at halftime of the Clippers game after the second-year forward played 13:28 minutes without a shot attempt between the first and second quarters.

“He (Donovan) just pulled me to the side, and said… ‘Specifically, when you get the ball out of traps (opponents double-teaming DeRozan and Zach LaVine), when you get the ball in open-floor situations, be aggressive putting the ball on the floor. I think those were his exact words,” Williams said. “I knew what he meant. It's not the first time that he or anybody has said that to me.”

The two corner 3s he drained without hesitation down the stretch, then, speak to improved decisiveness. The poster he plastered on Isaiah Hartenstein and cutting dunk in overtime (which were both freed up by multiple defenders collapsing on DeRozan) show he took the words of his head coach and teammates to heart.

“Just be locked in. One, understand the moment. And two, understand the assignment at hand,” DeRozan said when asked what he challenged Williams to do. “Don't let anything catch you off guard, whether it's defensively, offensively. Always try to think a step ahead. (I) just consistently let him know that, let him know that, especially in big games, big moments like tonight. And he made all the right decisions.”

Added Williams: “They showed trust in me, so I just had to trust myself in those situations.”

With the amount of defensive attention DeRozan and LaVine receive, the Bulls need Williams to be aggressive with his touches, no doubt. But Donovan has also emphasized his desire for Williams to hone in areas he can fully control: Running the floor hard, crashing the glass, inserting his size and athleticism into the game at both ends by playing with physicality.

These are dynamics the size-deficient Bulls badly need, so it’s encouraging that Williams’ minutes have jumped from roughly 16 minutes per game in his first five appearances back from injury to 25 in Tuesday’s win over the Wizards, to 37 against the Clippers. 

In those two games, Williams has played closing time, and pulled down a combined 19 rebounds. After averaging 4.6 rebounds per game as a rookie, he had just 11 boards — total — across the five games this season before tearing ligaments in his wrist in October.

Suffice it to say, the Bulls need more from the power forward spot. But Williams chalked that regression up to lingering effects from a sprained ankle he suffered in training camp, meaning it's possible a hump has been cleared.

“I wasn't telling people that it was hurt, I wasn't telling people that it was still bothering me up and down the court,” Williams said. “I think that kind of contributed to not rebounding as much. I just didn't feel comfortable jumping off of it (the ankle), or going back in there and maybe re-twisting it again. I think that was on me, just being professional and letting guys know I'm not 100 percent healthy.

“That was a helpful lesson on the second time around with the wrist, just making sure that I'm fully prepared, I'm fully confident and comfortable playing again.”

He certainly looked that way Thursday. The Bulls’ present and future look a lot rosier if that continues.

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