Patrick Williams' Future Already on Display with Chicago Bulls

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2021

Chicago Bulls' Patrick Williams looks to pass during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Chicago. Chicago won 118-108. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Paul Beaty/Associated Press

Shortly before the Chicago Bulls selected him in the 2020 NBA draft, Florida State's Patrick Williams was widely regarded as a fringe top-10 pick.

His most common draft position in November mock drafts was 11th. And to those who don't spend a ton of time analyzing NBA prospects, that may have even seemed high.

At FSU, Williams averaged 9.2 points in 22.5 minutes. He shot 32.0 percent on just 1.7 three-point attempts per game. Among freshmen who logged at least 500 minutes, he was tied for 25th in box plus/minus.

His production didn't scream lottery pick, but the Bulls put more stock in less tangible factors before surprising most fans and analysts by picking him fourth overall.

Williams' size (6'8" and 225 pounds), fluid athleticism, defensive versatility and promising 83.8 free-throw percentage sold Chicago's front office. With that foundation, Williams (who turned 19 three months before the draft) could develop into a keeper in today's positionless NBA.

The post-draft reviews of what some perceived to be a gamble were mixed. They included a C- from CBS Sports to a B+ from Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley, with plenty in between. That was perhaps an indication of the wide range of potential outcomes for Williams' career.

"In a draft where even the highest-ranked prospects are highly polarizing, the Bulls took a swing on a guy they evidently believe in," NBC Sports Chicago's Rob Schaefer wrote after the draft. "The logic to the selection is that—given his age, physical tools and flashes of skill—he can blossom into a quintessential modern 4 on both ends of the floor. A gap-filling game-wrecker defensively, and a floor-spacer with some creation ability on the offensive side."

That description may prove prophetic. Even as a teenage NBA rookie, Williams has shown signs of all of the above.

This season, the players he's defended most are Zion Williamson, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, but he's also spent plenty of time on smaller guards or wings like Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker.

The list of his assignments suggests not only that Billy Donovan and his staff trust Williams to defend the opposition's No. 1 option, but also that they trust him to guard various positions and player types.

That doesn't mean he's locking down all these stars (Chicago's defense ranks in the 19th percentile when Williams is on the floor), but taking his lumps against the stars now should pay off in the long run.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

In terms of the floor spacing, Williams already looks like a more reliable outside shooter than he was in college. A slightly higher percentage of his shots are coming from behind the line, and he's shooting an above-average 38.8 percent on 2.1 attempts per game.

The vast majority of those attempts are of the catch-and-shoot variety, but that's probably fine for the present, and maybe even the long term. If Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic are going to be around a while, there's a decent amount of playmaking and usage already accounted for. If they can depend on Williams to knock down open looks off their kickouts, that may be plenty.

When you combine the defense and shooting, you start to see a fairly intriguing statistical profile. Williams is averaging 1.0 threes, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per 75 possessions, putting him on the doorstep of fantasy basketball's triple-one club.

This season, there are only 10 players in that club who also have an above-average three-point percentage. And Jaren Jackson Jr. is the only player in league history to accomplish that feat as a teenager.

Whether he actually hits the benchmarks or not, Williams is showing exactly the kind of modern versatility teams need out of the third or fourth guy in a lineup.

Finally, there's the creation that Schaefer forecast. Williams' assist rate is low, but that's no reason to panic. Another wing drafted in large part due to his physical gifts, Jaylen Brown, didn't post an assist percentage over 10 till his fifth season. There is plenty of time for Williams to add that to his game.

What is already encouraging, though, is his willingness and ability to dribble into mid-range shots. The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor broke it down:

In time, the Bulls analytics department may want Williams to up his three-point volume. The mid-range is, after all, an area of the floor that produces notorious inefficiency. But it's good to have players who can score at that second level when defenses are stifling at the rim or the perimeter.

And Williams, even as a teenager, has shown that he can do that against NBA competition. On the season, he's 45-of-102 (44.1 percent) on two-pointers from beyond 10 feet. That gives him a percentage in that range that's slightly above the league average of 41.8 percent.

Again, even above-average efficiency there pales in comparison to points around the rim or from beyond the three-point line, but generally speaking, there's nothing wrong with extra wrinkles in a player's game. And as Williams grows more comfortable attacking closeouts, he'll learn how to draw defenders and find the open man for kickouts.

He's still just 19 years old. Aleksej Pokusevski is the only player in the league who's younger. Over the next several years, he should improve his handle, passing, scoring efficiency and defense. But he's already shown that he can be helpful on a team competing for a playoff spot (in the East, but still).

The Bulls have two All-Stars in LaVine and Vucevic. Now, the short-term team-building goal should be finding players who complement those two. Williams can be that. In some ways, he already is.

"The opportunity is mine," Williams told reporters of being drafted by Chicago in November. "The opportunity is there, and I am going to embrace it and make the most of it."

So far, he has.