Bulls’ Patrick Williams begins to live up to teammates’ expectations

There’s a play from the Chicago Bulls’ win over the Orlando Magic making the rounds on social media.

Zach LaVine drives and kicks wide Patrick Williams, who avoids an open corner 3-pointer to pass out to Nikola Vucevic, who quickly buries his own 3-pointer. The microphone under the basket clearly picks up LaVine screaming in disbelief that Williams let the shot go.

When asked after practice Monday at the Advocate Center if he had listened to LaVine in real time, Williams smiled.

“It was hard not to,” Williams said.

In other words, add LaVine to Williams’ “verbal abuse” list any time he isn’t playing aggressive enough.

Last week, DeMar DeRozan gleefully used that phrase to drive home the same point.

“I think all of you don’t see how much I make him nervous,” DeRozan said then. “Like, he really makes him nervous. If he plays poorly or doesn’t compete like I know he can compete, it’s verbal abuse.”

There’s a simple reason Williams’ teammates hold him to this standard: With their skill level and athleticism, they know his potential. And they also know what Williams, realizing his potential, will do for the Bulls.

“It’s been like that since the jump. But especially now that I’ve made a couple of shots and I’m playing pretty well, the guys want that to continue,” Williams said, “I could have. But I saw Vooch. Fortunately, Vooch made it through. Because if he hadn’t, Zach would have had a problem.”

Don’t look now, but with a string of several strong recent performances that have featured double-digit scoring in six of his last seven games, Williams is averaging double-digit numbers for the first time in his young career. He’s also shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range with a higher volume of 3.6 attempts per game.

“This has been a full year where you can see a steady incline in his progress,” coach Billy Donovan said.

Recently, coming off his first double-double of the season and just the fifth of his career, Donovan challenged Williams to become a more consistent rebounder, to more consistently hit double-digit rebounds.

Now, Donovan’s next request is for Williams to get more to the free throw line.

“It’s really hard to become an elite scorer and not get to the free throw line,” Donovan said. “That’s the next evolution for him.”

The point is: For every step Williams is making—Donovan said, beyond his consistently solid pitching, that Williams is reading closings better—there’s still room to grow. The averages of 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 free throw attempts per game can grow.

That is the potential that Williams possesses.

“I love this game because you always have the opportunity to improve,” Williams said. “That’s what drew me to this game and it keeps me going. I love seeing myself improve and the progress I make day after day.”

Although Williams is becoming more of an open catch-and-shoot weapon, Donovan said he doesn’t necessarily want Williams to make more of those shots. Obviously, he takes the ones that are open. But Donovan would also like to see Williams take fewer mid-range shots after attacking closures.

“What I think Patrick can do for our team is create more catching and shooting 3-point opportunities for others by driving more,” Donovan said. “Yeah, we want him to shoot when it’s open. But they’re going to be catch and shoot.

“There are opportunities where he drives and does one or two dribbles and hits that jumper that he’s good at. But there are times when he can go deep into the rim and kick it or get fouled and end up at the basket. That would help us too.”

Williams appreciates the trust his teammates and coaches have in him. He said the game is slowing down for him and he’s enjoying the benefit of playing every game after only recording 17 games last season due to a broken wrist following Grayson Allen’s flagrant foul.

Williams has played in all 49 games this season after playing in 71 of 72 in his rookie season. He’s still only played in 137 NBA games.

“You put in the work and it will surely show,” Williams said. “For me, I don’t think I’ve really shot a bad 3 percent. It’s more like taking what I get. I’m still passing up a couple to go from a good shot to a great shot. I have always had these opportunities. I’m starting to see them more.”

And when you don’t, your teammates will remind you.

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