‘Just scratching the surface’ – The Mercury News


Whenever Patrick Williams drops his chin, jams his shoulder into an opponent’s sternum, and fires through contact, the move earns the same repeated refrain: “Every time.”

For years, Williams has heard that plea from everyone in Chicago – coaches, teammates, fans – who have had enough of seeing the 21-year-old squander opportunities he could have seized for himself.

Williams’ 18-point performance in Wednesday’s win over the Denver Nuggets underscored the impact when he plays without fear. It was the product of a season-long growth to become the most confident version of himself, a journey that was largely driven by his Bulls teammates.

“It’s hard not to be (confident) when you have teammates who are always behind you so be honest about staying aggressive, shooting the ball,” Williams said. “If I miss one, they’re on me.”

DeMar DeRozan kept the praise private after the win, interrupting Williams’ post-game press conference with teasing barbs: “He’s not ready (beep).”

But after the most assertive performance – with some of the highest stakes – of Williams’ third year in Chicago, his teammates clearly savored the growth that was on full display in Denver.

“It was from the first play, from the first basket,” said point guard Zach LaVine. “He passed some contact, bumped into him again, told him to move out of the way, put him on and one. He’s so talented and so strong. He can do so much on the court. It’s just scratching the surface.”

Subtlety has always been a unique quality in Williams’ style of play. There’s a surprising amount of grace tucked into his six-foot-tall body – a light touch on the edge, a delicacy as he lands jabs around an opponent’s swinging arms.

The Bulls know the value and precision that this side of Williams can bring. But now, they don’t need subtlety. They need Williams to get brave.

The key to that growth for Williams has been learning to take things a step further. When he first entered the rotation for the Bulls, he often hesitated at the first sight of a shutout or challenge, throwing the ball to the next player instead of charging his opponent.

Earlier this season, Williams took more risks in these scenarios, but still pulled it up to lob shots over a defender’s head rather than smashing through contact. But in Wednesday’s win, Williams continually pushed the issue all the way, using an extra dribble to get to the rim rather than settling for a jump.

It’s easy to attribute “aggressiveness” as a simple way to meet force harder. But this part of Williams’ game – getting deep into the paint, dragging the defense down around the rim – is also tactical, opening up space for the rest of his teammates.

“He’s been a lot more aggressive,” said center Nikola Vučević. “When he plays like that, he helps our team tremendously.”

Switching to the secondary lineup also helped. Williams had to fight the instinct to give in to stars like LaVine and DeRozan when he started, dumping passes and looking down on his teammates even when he was wide open. This wasn’t the selfishness of LaVine or DeRozan – too often a Williams pass would earn a thunderous curse from the receiving teammate as they begged him to just shoot.

But in the secondary lineup, Williams is in his comfort zone alongside other young players like Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White. That comfort showed in Wednesday’s game, even as Williams switched to different rotations alongside teammates like Vučević, trading passes and shots with more poise as the pair split the Nuggets’ zone.

For Williams, this ability to balance her give-and-take role also comes from a greater understanding of how to read the courtroom.

“The game is kind of slowing down a little bit,” Williams said. “Just being able to get to the rim or see opportunities where I can create or opportunities where I can’t. I think the work is starting to show.”

“It just comes down to me. Just my mindset throughout the game, just being aggressive and being the player I want to be. Obviously it’s not going to happen if I don’t make it happen. Your confidence cannot fluctuate from game to game. Whether I played good or bad tonight – I won’t start every game like I did tonight – but my confidence cannot waver.


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