It’s come slowly, but the Bulls’ Patrick Williams is finding his way

MILWAUKEE – The Boston game plan was simple on Monday: They were daring Patrick Williams.

Daring the Bulls forward to shoot the three-pointer, daring him to show some aggressiveness, daring him to look like a former No. 4 overall draft pick.

And quietly – much like his personality – Williams didn’t flinch.

Even more importantly for the Bulls, his performance against the top team in the Eastern Conference wasn’t just a one-off. After a dismal start to his junior season in the NBA, suddenly Williams has been trending from disappointment to very serviceable.

It’s still not the trajectory many were counting on, and it’s definitely not moving as fast as the organization wanted it to, but there’s progress in Williams’ development. Finally.

Just look at his October compared to his November.

Williams was just a guy on the floor the first month of this 2022-23 campaign. A passenger in the car who chose to sit in the backseat and stare out a window.

He posted five games in single digits, averaged just 7.1 points, and grabbed two rebounds a game, leaving coach Billy Donovan to explain why he continued to keep him in the starting rotation.

It didn’t help that Williams told the Sun-Times that it was difficult for him to play with All-Stars, simply because he felt that he had to always defer to them.

That mindset was holding him to just six shots a game over those first seven contests.

Entering Wednesday’s Milwaukee game, there was a shift. Williams was putting up almost nine shots a game over his last 10 starts, averaging 11.4 points per game, while shooting 45.5% from three-point range. His rebounds were up to 5.3 over that span, and he just seems to be more engaged defensively.

There was life in the power forward after all.

That was on full display in putting up a season-high 17 in the Celtics win.

“Obviously they had a game plan, heavy shifts, make other guys make shots,” Williams said. “I did that, but a lot of guys stepped up. I think I did a good job making that next play. If you don’t have the shot, get off of it, and let someone else make the play.

“I’m just playing the game, not forcing anything. I’m at my best when I’m not thinking too much.”

Which is still a work in progress.

Donovan said at the start of the year that the area Williams needed to focus most on was between his ears. Overthinking was leading to too many passive moments. That’s exactly how that first month then played out, with frustration quickly turning into concern with the 21 year old.

The switch seemed to flip in that Brooklyn game on Nov. 1, however, with Williams putting up a then-season-high 10 shots, but also active in other ways, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking two shots.

What clicked? A lot, Williams said on Monday.

“You just mentally figure it out,” Williams said. “The best thing about the position I’m in and the type of player I am, of course having all the physical tools, the skill, having all that, for me it’s just mental. Mental in how I approach the game, how I see it, so I had to realize that was something I could control.

“If I didn’t have the skill, yeah, that would take time to develop. Of course I need to make my skills better, but the hurdle was having that mental aggressiveness coming into the game. Now it’s if I see a play, try and go make a play. Don’t overthink it, just play the game.”

Something he’s starting to do.

Just dare him.

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