Second-year forward Patrick Williams still has some obstacles to get past in the next couple of weeks if he wants to be in the starting lineup when the Bulls open the regular season in Detroit. Coach Billy Donovan sounded fairly confident Tuesday that Williams can handle it.
That didn’t seem to be the case when training camp started and Williams was nursing a severely sprained left ankle. But if he shows he can make lateral cuts in the next week and has no setbacks, the Bulls should have their projected starting five ready to roll by Oct. 20.
“We’re pretty optimistic,” Donovan said. “What the [doctors and trainers] really want to make sure is that the sprain has healed adequately, so we’ll probably be a little bit more on the cautious side, just because I think once [Williams] starts randomly cutting, they’ve got to see how he responds. With as explosive and as powerful as he has been, one of the things they don’t want is [to] have something where he’s not quite stable, he does something and tweaks it, and now he’s having to manage that in the middle of the year.
“There’s been nothing said [like], ‘Hey, listen, this guy is going to miss the first week of the regular season.’ There’s been nothing like that.”
Williams, the Bulls’ first-round pick in 2020, had an excellent offseason, showing aggressiveness on offense and getting his conditioning to a higher level. Donovan sees that conditioning as the key to Williams becoming an elite two-way player.
“It was really, really eye-opening for him,” Donovan said of Williams’ rookie year. “You think about a guy 19 years old, plays one season in college, came off the bench, probably never really played in a 40-minute game where he played the whole college game, so his minutes were whatever they were. Now, all of a sudden, he goes from that, and he’s guarding some of the guys we know he’s had to guard. There’s an endurance component where . . . he has a much better awareness of the kind of conditioning he does need to be in.”
Forward Lauri Markkanen wasn’t the only former Bull to return Tuesday in a Cavaliers jersey. So did versatile wing Denzel Valentine, who signed a two-year, $4 million deal as a free agent during the offseason.
“Everybody’s journey is different,” Valentine said. “If it was perfect or easy, everybody would be doing it. I’ve gone through trials and tribulations. I’ve shown glimpses. I know what I’m capable of doing. I’ve done it here [with the Bulls]. I’m finally healthy now. This is going to be my second season coming in healthy, so I feel like my best basketball is ahead of me.
“I have no grudges, no nothing here. I don’t feel any type of way. Things just didn’t work out. But still, I had great moments and great opportunities here, and I had great teammates. I was blessed to play here.”
With Williams sidelined and forward Derrick Jones Jr. (ankle) a late scratch, Donovan opted to start Javonte Green against the Cavaliers.
Jones’ ankle was expected to be a short-term issue. Donovan also scratched Tony Bradley, who’s dealing with a sore back.