Forward Patrick Williams’ aggressiveness offensively was the dead horse the Bulls’ beat through most of the offseason.
It’s an issue the organization hopes was addressed and remedied during the NBA Summer League, where Williams displayed a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality.
In the three games the 20-year-old Williams played in the Summer League, he averaged 21 points. More important, he was third among all players in shot attempts, getting up 19.3 per game.
Were they all good shots?
No. That was evident from the .379 shooting percentage. But that wasn’t the point of the exercise.
Guard Zach LaVine is the headliner for the franchise with fall camp starting Tuesday. But LaVine will be eligible for free agency after the season and, from all indications, will be looking to test the market and maximize his value. He’s the today for the Bulls; there’s no debating that. The hope is that Williams can be the tomorrow.
A hope that hit a speed bump, as the team announced on Friday that Williams had suffered a severely sprained left ankle during an optional workout on Sept. 15, and would be sidelined the next four-to-six weeks.
The good news was they expected a full recovery early into the regular season for Williams.
Having an elite two-way player, especially on the wing, isn’t a prerequisite for a team winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Just look at the last decade or so.
LeBron James has four titles during that time, Klay Thompson has three, Kawhi Leonard has two and now Giannis Antetokounmpo has joined the club.
All are elite wing defenders with the ability to score 30 points on the opposition on any given night.
But they aren’t easy to find.
The Bulls had an elite two-way player in Jimmy Butler, but they traded him in 2017 to embark on their rebuild. They got LaVine, forward Lauri Markkanen and guard Kris Dunn in return.
Markkanen now is with the Cavaliers and Dunn with the Grizzlies. Only LaVine remains, but the search for a two-way presence to do what Butler did continues. The hope is that Williams can fill that void when healthy.
The good news is that he has the willingness to try. Williams’ favorite player is Leonard, he is a more-than-willing defender and he only has scratched the surface of his offensive arsenal.
The goal in camp is for him to walk the fine line of making sure LaVine, forward DeMar DeRozan and center Nikola Vucevic get their shots without stunting his own offensive trajectory by being a passive observer.
That will be one of the keys to camp, but it won’t be the only one with the regular season just more than three weeks away.
1. ‘‘Pay him. . . . Pay dat man his money’’
LaVine likely outplayed his contract two seasons ago. There’s no doubt he has been playing on a deal he made extinct. But is he a max player worth $201.3 million for the next five years? That’s one scenario in play if the Bulls want to continue building around him.
Showing he’s continuing on the path of improving his defense would be a good place for LaVine to start because some serious questions have to be answered with that kind of investment in the balance.
The Bulls definitely have plenty of options in the backcourt, with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso joining the mix with LaVine and Coby White (shoulder surgery), when he’s ready to return in November. And don’t forget Illinois standout Ayo Dosunmu, whom they drafted in the second round.
Coach Billy Donovan plans on running some three-guard rotations, but how that looks in actual games and which players he will use must play out during camp.
3. Forward thinking
The Bulls’ lack of depth in the frontcourt has been well-documented since they swung and missed on players such as Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge.
DeRozan, Williams and Vucevic are the obvious starters, but players such as Tony Bradley, Marko Simonovic, Derrick Jones Jr., Troy Brown Jr., and Alize Johnson will have to be prepared to make their argument for minutes.
Let the battle commence.