Rookie wall or no rookie wall, the Bulls need Pat Williams to step up

The 19-year-old rookie forward claims that he is still learning and building a foundation for the future, but his scoring has all but disappeared lately, and the Bulls need him to play like a No. 4 overall pick down the stretch.

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The Bulls’ Pat Williams says he has not hit the “rookie wall.”

The Bulls’ Pat Williams says he has not hit the “rookie wall.”


In the last month, Bulls starting forward Patrick Williams has been asked several times about the “rookie wall.’’

And Williams, 19, has been very consistent in his replies, swearing that he hasn’t hit it.

He might actually feel that way, but if he hasn’t hit the wall, it does seem to have made contact with him.

Williams hasn’t been a factor offensively the last three games — all losses — and he has been trending in this direction for a month.

After averaging 9.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in March, Williams is at 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds for April, including only six combined points to conclude the road trip against the Hawks, Timberwolves and Grizzlies.

“Maybe a little bit, it’s been a lot of games,’’ coach Billy Donovan said after the Bulls’ 101-90 loss Monday against the Grizzlies. “I don’t want to speak for him [about the rookie wall] because I haven’t necessarily had a conversation with him to have him articulate that.’’

Donovan did say that the first play of the game was designed to get Williams the ball, but “he made the right play’’ when he was cut off from the basket and passed.

The difficulty is getting Williams to keep making the right plays but also maintaining the aggressiveness that’s expected from a No. 4 overall pick —rookie season or not.

Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine are All-Stars and undoubtedly the alphas, but considering the way Lauri Markkanen has checked out far too often and Coby White has struggled to embrace his new bench role, there’s no reason why Williams shouldn’t be the third option.

He has a nice float game and a promising midrange game, and when he goes to the rim, opposing bodies move or are moved.

Donovan would like to see more production from the new regime’s first draft pick, but he also defended the way Williams has played of late to a certain extent.

“When he drives the ball and can’t get to the basket, what do you expect him to do?’’ Donovan said. “I don’t love him trying to rise and shoot over guys at 15, 17 feet and them hanging on him on non-paint twos. He’s going to have to get it inside the framework, out of transition, maybe some offensive rebounds or some of those things. But he has all the freedom in the world to be as aggressive as he possibly wants to be.’’

So how aggressive does he want to be?

Lately, he appears just fine with going along for the ride on offense, insisting it will benefit him down the road.

“I think from Day 1, my teammates and coaches have been telling me to stay confident and be aggressive,’’ Williams said. “I still have a long ways to go. But I kind of look at it as building a foundation for the player and person I want to be five, 10, hopefully 15 years from now if I’m still playing in the NBA.’’

But the Bulls need a consistent third scoring punch now. With 19 games left and a lot on the line, they don’t have time for foundations to be poured and hardened.

“For anyone to expect him at 19 to be taking over NBA games, it’s probably a little bit of a stretch right now,’’ Donovan said. “I don’t think he’s evolved into that kind of player. I hope someday he’ll evolve into that. He’s not that right now.’’

For the Bulls to reach their goals, he just might need to be.

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