Bulls rookie Patrick Williams continues putting a lot on his chest


Last week it was Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Friday night in Los Angeles it was LeBron James. Williams welcomes the challenge of becoming an elite defender, and the Bulls are willing participants in that process, throwing the rook right into the deep end. The chest felt good.
Patrick Williams was glad for that.
Even better?
While there was less burning in the chest, there was also more experience now added to the rookie’s resume.
Sure, the Bulls have now lost to Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers in the last week, but in taking on both of those elite teams, it allowed Williams to get an education that film and practice just don’t do justice.
He was given the task of guarding two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on New Year’s Day, and then Friday night the stakes went up, guarding the best player on the planet in LeBron James.
“I can’t really say much except I got better,’’ Williams said of the latest on-the-court lesson learned. “I got better [Friday] as a defender, as a player. Just being around [James], watching him, guarding him – I got better. In the 10th game of the season, that’s all you can ask for. I took on the challenge. I mean, he is LeBron James, so he’s going to get his. He’s going to get to his spots. But you just kind of got to make him take the tough ones, and he’s making the tough ones. So I got better.’’
Which is the organization’s hope for the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The Bulls haven’t had an elite two-way player on the roster since they traded Jimmy Butler away back in 2017. And elite two-way players don’t exactly grow on trees, either.
When they drafted Williams out of Florida State, the hope was they could get him on that path. To the credit of coach Billy Donovan, there’s no easing into this. It’s taking the 19-year-old to the deep end of the swimming pool and just throwing him in.
“Patrick did a nice job,’’ Donovan said. “I think I said before the game, this is going to be a learning experience for him going through this, but I thought he did a great job competing. He really battled. And he’s going to get better from a game like this.’’
That’s where the make-up of Williams is unique.
Not only does he understand the process of on-the-job training, but he’s come into this rookie campaign looking to establish himself as an eventual stopper. That’s a rarity.
Young players often get caught up in the points they are churning out in the stat line. Williams is willing to sacrifice scoring for defense from an energy standpoint, and judge his outing on did he make life tougher for his opposition.
“In this league I want to be a guy, a really good two-way player,’’ Williams said. “A guy that can really guard the best guys every night, so, um, I mean, that’s a challenge for sure. It’s not easy. So in my rookie year I just want to learn as much as I can … I think I’ve been doing that. I think we’ve been doing that as a team. I’m confident. The coaches have the utmost confidence in me. My teammates have confidence in me to go out there and guard him, so I just rely on their confidence and my confidence too, and just take it as a stepping stone.’’
So what did the James experience teach him?
Against Antetokounmpo, Williams came out of that game with a “burning chest’’ from all the shoulders the Greek Freak dropped into that area as he tried to back Williams down.
Lesson learned.
“I mean, from Giannis I learned that kinda you can’t lean on him,’’ Williams said. “You can’t really play with your chest, you gotta play with your hands to make him uncomfortable. So like I said I learned.’’
Next assignment? Sunday against the Clippers, and likely getting a shot at Kawhi Leonard.
Good luck.

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