When Patrick Williams dislocated his wrist in October, the last two people he wanted to call were his parents.
He knew they’d do too much — insist on buying tickets for the next flight out Chicago, flood him relentlessly with care and concern. That’s the burden of being the youngest kid of the family, especially for a 20-year-old halfway across the country, away from his family, suddenly facing the first serious injury of his career.
But Williams didn’t want anybody to worry. Especially himself. That’s why, at the same time, he didn’t want to be alone — worry was harder to chase away when he didn’t have people around him, when he couldn’t crack jokes with teammates or pry advice out of veterans and coaches.
Before last fall, Williams can’t remember ever going longer than three days without a basketball in his hands. Even then, it was just to nurse a jammed finger or sore wrist. Never by choice. For weeks, Williams said he was vibrating with the excitement of getting back on the court.
Now that he’s back, the Bulls need all that pent-up energy to translate onto the court. But in recent games, the second-year forward has been swallowed up by the stakes in the final weeks of the regular season.
“You throw him in the midst of the chaos and it seems like we struggle having to understand the small detail things you normally would learn throughout the season,” veteran DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s a tough task for him right now. He’s going to have to catch up fast. You just got to stay on him.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s 107-94 road win over the Washington Wizards, coach Billy Donovan had made his challenge clear: Williams only can earn his minutes with aggression on the court.
“We need an all-out Patrick,” Donovan said.
Williams answered, scoring six points and grabbing seven rebounds in a performance that harkened back to his potential before the injury. DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points and Nikola Vučević added 27 as the Bulls won for just the fifth time in the last 16 games. They hold a half-game lead over the Toronto Raptors for the fifth spot in the East.
Although a portion of his possessions were still tinged with tentativeness, Williams returned a bullying bounce to several drives to the basket.
That turnaround was critical for Williams after the game the night before. Against the New York Knicks on Monday night, the Bulls couldn’t get Williams to do one thing — shoot the ball.
To close the game Monday, Donovan selected Williams over fellow power forward Javonte Green —who has outplayed his size as an unexpected starter this season, affecting the defense while averaging 7.3 points per game — to close the game. But in 13 minutes, Williams didn’t shoot once.
He balked at opportunities around the rim and in the midrange. On the defensive end, Williams managed a steal, a block and a rebound. But on offense, he faded into the woodwork. In a must-win game for the Bulls, the former first-round draft pick didn’t record a single shot or assist.
“That’s on me,” Williams said after the 109-104 loss. “I’ve got to be ready when my name is called. Coach can’t control my shots.”
During recovery, Williams had one focus — strengthening his mind. His body was out of his control, but Williams still believed he could use recovery to become a smarter, sharper basketball player.
DeRozan gifted him a copy of ”The Undefeated Mind” by Alex Lickerman, which the veteran discovered while rehabbing a torn adductor with the Toronto Raptors. Williams worked through the book with the team’s sports psychologists. He also taught himself to play chess and watched documentaries about Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant.
Most important, Williams spent hours each week studying film on Sportscode. If he watched and analyzed enough film, Williams believed he could grow enough to slow down the game from the overwhelming speed of his rookie season — and he believes this time paid off in his first five games.
“It’s a lot slower than it was last year,” Williams sad. “It’s more about trying to translate what I saw on film to actually live in the game. The rhythm, the flow — it takes awhile.”
Donovan agreed that Williams knows what to do — the problem is getting him to take risks on the court. Although the coach acknowledged the need for Williams to “get his legs back under him” after months off the court, Donovan believes he is also struggling with the decision-making required in close-game situations.
Williams didn’t play in the first quarter against the Knicks, then opened the second quarter with a rebound, block and steal in the first three minutes on the court. But that promising start quickly evaporated after Williams fumbled a pass and struggled in his defensive matchups against Alec Burks and RJ Barrett. Each mistake seemed to pile up on the young forward’s shoulders, leading to increased hesitancy to make the next move.
“The biggest thing for Patrick is when he’s making mistakes, he’s got to move past some of that stuff,” Donovan said. “I’m not saying he was down himself, but he’s got to move past it.”
The timing of Williams’ learning curve doesn’t favor the Bulls. Williams said these feel like the first games of his season after he started on an ankle injury that wasn’t fully recovered. He certainly could benefit from more time for an easier entry back into the league. But the Bulls don’t have that luxury with barely a week left to clinch their playoff seeding.
With the possibility of play-in games looming, the Bulls need Williams to return to the core of his identity — a physically assertive two-way player who can elevate the team on both ends of the court.
“Obviously I’m not as aggressive,” Williams said. “I can be better defensively, I can be better rebounding the ball, I can be better on the floor while I’m out there. I have to be better.”
Source: Berkshire mont