The Bulls would love to have an X-factor entering Game 1 of the playoff series with Milwaukee.
Heck, at this point they would settle for a U, V, or W-factor.
Pick a letter.
Maybe, just maybe, the regular-season finale in Minnesota was a dress rehearsal for Patrick Williams to be just that.
It was in that game that the second-year forward scored a career-high 35 points, grabbed four rebounds with four assists, put up 21 shots, got to the free throw line 14 times, and went 3-for-4 from three-point range.
An offensive showcase only seen in Summer League for the No. 4 overall pick from the 2020 NBA Draft.
“Going forward, I think him having a game like this at the end of the year, not just showing himself but everyone on the team that he’s capable of being that type of player,” All-Star Zach LaVine said of Williams’ outing. “He is that guy.”
He’ll need to be.
The 35 points won’t be happening against the Bucks. Not with the Bulls at full strength. But being aggressive on the offensive end, especially with all the attention LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are going to get, will be key if the Bulls want to keep the defending NBA Champions off balance.
“They’ve been giving that message since last year,” Williams said, when asked about being aggressive on the offensive end. “It’s on me. I feel confident enough to do it. I’ve proven to myself not only [against the Timberwolves], but previous games, and even some last season that when I am aggressive, I am helping this team.”
Completely true. But it’s Williams’ defense that will be monumental.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan keeps starting lineups close to the vest. In the last meeting with Milwaukee, however, Donovan started Williams, DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso and rookie Ayo Dosunmu, with LaVine getting a rest.
Dosunmu will likely be the odd-man out for Game 1 on Sunday, coming off the bench.
That means Williams draws the short straw of trying to defend a player who has become almost undefendable in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The same Antetokounmpo who has won 13 straight against the Bulls, while his Milwaukee team has won 16 of its last 17.
So what have previous Williams-Antetokounmpo showdowns looked like so far? That’s another problem – the sample size.
In just his sixth NBA game of his career last year, Williams got his first taste of the “Greek Freak” experience in a 30-point Bulls loss on New Year’s Day. Antetokounmpo had 29 points and 12 rebounds that day, as well as finishing with a ridiculous plus-31 in the plus/minus. Williams had eight points, and offered very little resistance to the Milwaukee standout.
That was the only time Antetokounmpo played against the Bulls last season.
This season, Williams missed the first two games with the Bucks, recovering from wrist surgery, and then came off the bench in the third game for minimal action. The closest the two had a chance to go at it recently was the April 5 meeting at the United Center, in which the Bulls were blown out 127-106.
Antetokounmpo only had 18, but also only played 24 minutes, with Milwaukee seemingly turning the game into a scrimmage, working on different looks both offensively and defensively.
Williams also had 18, but was a zero in plus/minus, while Antetokounmpo was a plus-12.
Williams’ attitude about the upcoming playoff showdown? Throw all the numbers, final scores and trends out the window.
“I think it’s more about us and how we play,” Williams said. “We can’t really worry about them. I think it’s more making sure we’re connected offensively and defensively. We’ve shown when we are connected on both ends of the floor and all the guys are connected, we’re pretty good.
“We’re going to be physical, we’re going to fight. I think we can play with anybody, any team. Let’s play.”