It’s been a slow process, but the Bulls’ Patrick Williams is finding his way

Williams still doesn’t resemble a No. 4 pick overall, but he’s also not the same passive passenger he was the first month of the regular season. His development remains a high priority for the organization if they want to get where they hope to get, and he’s at least trending in the right direction.

SHARE It’s been a slow process, but the Bulls’ Patrick Williams is finding his way
The Bulls’ Patrick Williams is starting to show some progress.

The Bulls’ Patrick Williams is starting to show some progress.

Michael Dwyer/AP

MILWAUKEE — The Celtics’ game plan was simple on Monday: They dared 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.

More importantly for the Bulls, his performance against the top team in the Eastern Conference wasn’t a one-off. After a dismal start to his third season in the NBA, suddenly Williams has trended from disappointing to very serviceable.

That was again on display in the impressive 118-113 win the Bulls had in Milwaukee on Wednesday, their first regular-season win in the Bucks’ backyard since Dec. 26, 2017. Of course DeMar DeRozan led the way with 36 points, and while Williams added 11, his physicality on the defensive end against Giannis Antetokounmpo was maybe the most impressive thing he did all night.

Improvements to his game that still might not be 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 back seat and stare out the window.

He posted five games in single digits, averaged just 7.1 points and two rebounds, 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 held him to an average of six shots over those first seven games.

Entering Wednesday’s game against the Bucks, a shift had occurred. Williams has put up almost nine shots a game over his last 10 starts, averaging 11.4 points, 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 victory over the Celtics.

“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 season that Williams, 21, needed to focus most on was goes on between his ears. Overthinking led to too many passive moments. That’s exactly how that first month played out, with frustration quickly turning into concern with him.

The switch seemed to flip in a game against the Nets on Nov. 1, however. Williams put up a then-season-high 10 shots, and was active in other ways, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking two shots.

What clicked? A lot, Williams said earlier this week.

“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.’’

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