Bulls lose starting forward Patrick Williams for 4 to 6 months

The second-year player suffered a wrist injury in the third quarter Thursday against the Knicks and was headed for surgery. Coach Billy Donovan was weighing his options for replacements, but if the preseason was any indication, Javonte Green needs to be ready.

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Javonte Green was the surprise story of the summer and the Bulls’ fall camp. Now they might ask him to be a savior.

What was supposed to be a season of promise for second-year forward Patrick Williams has quickly turned into a massive disappointment, with the team confirming Friday that Williams tore a ligament in his left wrist in the third quarter of the Bulls’ loss to the Knicks on Thursday night. Williams, 20, who landed on the wrist after a flagrant foul by Knicks center Mitchell Robinson, will need four to six months to recover after surgery. The best-case scenario would have him back by the end of February, but if his rehabilitation goes the distance, he could be out through the end of the regular season.

Green, 28, is likely the next man up. At least, that was his role in the preseason when coach Billy Donovan leaned on the defensive-minded wing for three of four games Williams was sidelined with a sprained ankle.

Derrick Jones Jr. has been calmly waiting for his opportunity, so that’s a second option. Donovan might also go with a three-guard attack by putting Alex Caruso in the starting lineup and moving DeMar DeRozan to the four role that Williams occupied.

But none of those options is what the Bulls were looking forward to.

“I feel bad for [Williams],” Donovan said. “He obviously missed a month with the ankle. I thought he had a great summer considering the fact he got drafted and came right to camp with no Summer League [last season because of the pandemic]. He ended up a really durable player for us last year.”

That he did, missing only one game. His injury is a gut-punch for many reasons, but especially because it robs him of a chance to continue developing in Year 2. After being selected fourth overall in 2020, Williams put in a significant amount of work before the ankle injury late this summer and was poised to take a big leap.

Still, in the short-term, it might not be as bad for the Bulls (4-1) as it appears. Williams often looked lost on offense, and while he was usually guarding the opposing team’s best wing scorer, he was averaging only 6.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game, with a player efficiency rating of 10.84. In almost 10 fewer minutes per game, Green is averaging 5.4 points and 2.8 rebounds, with a player efficiency rating of 18.80. He has been instant energy off the bench and also seemed to play well with the starters during his three preseason games.

The Bulls aren’t a better team without Williams — they lose depth at a position where they have little — but Green should help them sustain their production in a starting role.

And just because Donovan chooses to start Green doesn’t mean he’s going to close with him. Even when Williams was healthy, Donovan was leaning more on Caruso and the three-guard attack late in games, and that likely won’t change.

That was evident in the loss to the Knicks, in which Donovan used Caruso to help defend the backcourt, switching Lonzo Ball on power forward Julius Randle. It was a matchup that few teams have the luxury of making with their starting point guard, but Ball handled it well.

Whatever decision Donovan makes, it will have to come quickly. The Bulls host the unbeaten Jazz on Saturday.

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