Bulls' Patrick Williams impresses in 1st NBA start amid team-wide debacle

Rob Schaefer
·4 min read

Williams' play only solace from season-opening debacle originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Zach LaVine's advice to Patrick Williams entering the latter's first NBA season was simple: Ride the roller coaster.

"I told him like, man, there are going to be some ups and downs," LaVine said after morning shootaround in advance of the Bulls' season opener against the Atlanta Hawks. "I told him what I did wrong. I used to go to the gym after every bad game I played. I’d be in the gym until like 1, 2 a.m.

"Next day I’d go to practice and I’d be wearing my body down. I said, ‘Just don’t hang your hat on every game. We have so many games. You’re used to playing 32 in college. You’re able to make up for your mistakes really, really soon because you play somebody really good the next day. Just ride the roller coaster, essentially.'"

Well, after the brief peak of Williams becoming the youngest player in Bulls history to start their first game of the season, came a precipitous valley. "Reality," as Wendell Carter Jr. called it. A 124-104 blowout loss to the Hawks that hardly ever felt that close and featured disjointed, uninspired play on both ends.

Williams was just about the only bright spot from the avalanche. In NBA debut, and first official start, he posted 16 points, four rebounds, one assist, steal and block apiece, and shot 5-for-11 from the floor while attempting six free throws.

"I thought Patrick did a nice job tonight," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "I think he'll continue to learn, when to shoot, when to drive, when to pass. I feel really, really good about him in terms of the way he's handled himself with such a quick turnaround from the draft to training camp and now to starting the season."

Indeed, just a month and change after being drafted by the Bulls -- and coming off a freshman season at Florida State in which all of his appearances were of the reserve variety -- Williams has sprinted through an abridged offseason, training camp and preseason with flying colors. He's supplanted Otto Porter Jr. in the starting lineup for the team's last three games, with the first two being preseason contests.

Along the way, he's flashed the ball-handling, outside shooting and sharp passing that grant his offensive potential such a high ceiling. He's sturdy and disruptive on the defensive end, of course, and is also proving to be an effective slasher because of his plus physique, athleticism and feel.

"He's extremely talented, you see flashes where its like man this kid is going to be really good," LaVine said. "He brings an aggression to the game. He's extremely strong. He's NBA-ready body wise, and it's something that we need. He's just going to keep getting better."

There remain rookie moments, especially checking dartier guards on-the-ball. But he's held up admirably in the face of every challenge thrown at him so far. In fact, on this night, he logged a game-high 33 minutes and tied with Coby White for the second-highest field-goal attempt total on the Bulls (though a handful of those came with the game out of reach). 

His energy provides presence this team sorely needs.

"It’s great having him out there, young, willing to learn, willing to play the game and do whatever he has to do to help the team win," Carter said. "I can tell he has a great love for the game. I feel like he gives great effort. It’s his first NBA game. He had some mistakes out there. But he did it at 110 percent. I can’t do nothing but respect it. Once we can all go out there and say we gave 110 percent, now we can work on the small things. Until we get the basic things down, we’re going to struggle."

That's a nod to the team-wide results in the opener, which, had Williams spoken to reporters postgame, he would have surely lamented. You don't have to talk to him long to pick up on his team-first approach.

"I don't really say personal goals. My personal goal is to help the team win, so all my personal goals are kind of in line with team goals," Williams said at shootaround of his goals for his rookie season. "We're just trying to win, get better every day, every practice, every game. So my personal goals kind of just line up with that."

Williams went on to say on what turned out to be the morning of his first NBA start that he wasn't really nervous for his debut. As has become typical, he didn't play like it. If Wednesday's result is any indication of what's to come for this year's Bulls, that point of solace will be one to cling to.

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