Patrick Williams said all the right things in his exit interview with the media recently.
The Bulls power forward always does.
When it comes to actions, however, that’s where the No. 4 overall pick from the 2020 draft has fallen short.
Williams often talks about being aggressive offensively but seldom has been. He has been open about being an elite defender but has appeared overmatched against the game’s best. He has spoken about being a driver of the Bulls’ bus as the organization has returned to relevancy but can often be found in the back seats near the emergency exit.
That’s why this offseason will be paramount for Williams and the franchise.
At some point, words and actions have to join hands if the former Florida State standout is going to justify his No. 4 selection.
Even Williams knows that. At least he said he did.
“As long as I know what I’m capable of . . . I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do. I know what I’m learning to do,” Williams said of living up to his high draft status. “Obviously, I have confidence in myself, but when you have the confidence of the coaching staff, your front office, your teammates, it’s easy to kind of back yourself, be confident in yourself. So I don’t really think too much of it. I just play basketball, learn as much as I can, take it one day at a time, and I think I have the talent, the skills. Then, of course, you have the love and support of the people around you, and the people around you want to see you do better. The people around you want to see you be a star.
“I think it’s inevitable, honestly.”
It needs to be inevitable, especially with the way the starting frontcourt was constructed. DeMar DeRozan is listed as a small forward but plays like a scoring guard. And with Nikola Vucevic’s defensive holes, a lot of the weight of defending the opposition’s best wing player falls on Williams when he’s healthy.
But he wasn’t available that much in 2021-22 because of a freak wrist injury that sidelined him for most of the regular season.
If there was some light at the end of the tunnel, however, it came in the last two games of the first-round playoff loss to the Bucks.
Williams had 20 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4, then 23 points in the elimination Game 5. Baby steps, but big-boy numbers. It was a small sample size that needs to transform into a trend.
But even if it does, the Bulls need more size and physicality at forward. The playoff series against the Bucks was a reminder of that, and the Eastern Conference is loaded with physical teams such as the Celtics, Heat and Raptors.
Fortunately for the Bulls, it’s a forward-heavy draft class.
WHAT THE BULLS HAVE
DeRozan, Williams, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., Troy Brown Jr.
WHO COULD BE ON THE MOVE
Jones is an unrestricted free agent and likely will be hitting the market, while the Bulls could make a qualifying offer to Brown. Don’t expect that to happen, as the forward spot needs some offseason help.
With the 18th pick, there will be some help available for the Bulls at power forward. LSU’s Tari Eason showed high-octane defensive ability, and Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell brings physicality to the position. Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan could be one of the better all-around defenders, as well as one of the younger prospects in the class, but he could be gone by No. 18.
Unless the Bulls can free up some money, there’s little help in free agency with the type of player they need. And it’s not a great free-agent class overall, especially at forward.
A tough-minded veteran who will guard and offer leadership off the bench, and would do so at a discount? Not an easy get. Thaddeus Young has to be on speed dial to see if he wants to return for some unfinished business.