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Sports Saturday

Bulls position breakdown: It’s forward thinking time for Pat Williams

The No. 4 overall pick out of the 2020 NBA Draft had a nice season, resulting in being selected to the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. But the skillset demands more from Williams, as he has a chance to be the dominant two-way forward the league covets.

Most of the NBA world is not privy to the feats of “Practice Pat.”

But Bulls teammates, coaches, executives and a handful of others at the Advocate Center have seen the full potential of 19-year-old forward Patrick Williams.

The outside world saw snippets of it this past season: Williams’ power at the rim, the float game in his offense, his willingness to defend whomever, whenever as a rookie. (Just Google the block he had on the Suns’ Deandre Ayton on March 31.)

But if you want a complete highlight reel, Practice Pat put together a great one.

That’s why there’s so much excitement surrounding Williams’ offseason — starting with the fact he’ll actually have one.

Because of the coronavirus, the No. 4 overall pick out of Florida State was basically thrown right into fall camp last year. No minicamp, no working out with the veterans, no Summer League in Las Vegas. And still, Williams had unbelievable moments — unfortunately, too often in practice and not enough in games, when he often looked passive.

That has to change heading into next season if Williams wants to be a truly special two-way player, and the Bulls know it.

“The things we think Pat does [are], like, incredible, and he doesn’t know he’s doing incredible stuff out there,’’ veteran forward Thad Young said last month. “We thought [the Ayton block] was one of the most amazing blocks ever, and he was like, ‘Was it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, if you don’t think it was incredible, go look at Twitter and go look at Instagram and you’re gonna see all the comments on it.’

“He’s just one of those guys that he has so many physical tools that it’s just all natural to him. That’s the fun part about having somebody like Pat. And that’s, I think, what’s gonna make him into a monster, because he’s doing stuff now that he’s already physically gifted to do. And when he gets that killer mindset in him, it’s gonna be trouble for a lot of people.”

That’s the hope. If what Williams shows in practice can translate more to games, it completely changes what the Bulls can be in the Eastern Conference. He’s that important.

The NBA is a wing-driven league. There’s a reason LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are constant fixtures in the NBA Finals. Considering Williams’ size, physicality and skills, there’s no reason he can’t become the face of the franchise within the next few seasons.

He just has to be a willing participant.

“Usually when you get a young player, you build his arsenal,” said Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “You add certain things to his skill set. Pat has a lot of those skills. It’s just, when he is going to choose to use them?

“I think the sky is the limit for him. He’s going to have a summer for the first time. He knows again what he needs to work on. I’m looking forward to seeing his growth.”

FOCUSING ON FORWARDS

WHOM THE BULLS HAVE

Patrick Williams, Troy Brown Jr., Daniel Theis, Lauri Markkanen, Al-Farouq Aminu, Thad Young.

WHO COULD BE ON THE MOVE

Markkanen is a restricted free agent, and there will be money thrown his way from the outside. Theis is a free agent. Aminu had a player option for $10.1 million and picked it up for next season.

THE DRAFT

If the Bulls get lucky and retain a top-four pick in the draft lottery, they’re unlikely to use it to address their needs at forward. One player to remember is 2020 second-round pick Marko Simonovic, a draft-and-stash who could be on the roster by the fall.

FREE AGENCY

Expect the Bulls to make a tough decision on Markkanen but also put in an offer to keep Theis and his physicality in the frontcourt. Simonovic could take Markkanen’s role if he leaves, but the focus will be on keeping the frontcourt roster turnover to a minimum.

WILD CARD

After Kawhi Leonard and John Collins, it’s a weak free-agent class at forward. Simonovic is the wild card. Is his game NBA-ready? Arturas Karnisovas thinks it is.