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The Chicago Bulls want more out of Patrick Williams.
That has been a common refrain throughout the power forward’s third season in Chicago. But as Williams continues to build on his scoring and defensive contributions, coach Billy Donovan issued a more focused edict for the 21-year-old’s improvement.
“You’ve got to feel him on the backboard,” Donovan said. “When he gets in and makes those kind of efforts to get on the backboard, he really is an elite rebounder. We need him to do that. He’s a guy that’s got to try to go get double-figure rebounds for us.”
Averaging 4.3 rebounds, Williams ranks fifth on the team behind Nikola Vučević (11.1), backup center Andre Drummond (6.6), forward DeMar DeRozan (5) and guard Zach LaVine (4.6).
Williams had 10 rebounds Monday in a win against the Atlanta Hawks, his first game of the season in double digits. He hopes to keep repeating that statistic in the latter half of the season.
“I think it’s pretty clear that I can rebound the ball,” Williams said. “I’ve got to be more consistent with my rebounds. I definitely put that on myself and accept the challenge.”
For Williams, the issue has never been athletic ability. His 6-foot-7 frame allows him to muscle out larger forwards and centers, particularly after packing on additional muscle in the offseason. And there’s a buoyant quality to the way the forward elevates to retrieve rebounds and finish dunks.
“He’s got great explosiveness off the floor,” Donovan said. “He doesn’t need necessarily a big gather or a long run to jump. He’s really explosive off two feet.”
After a win, talk in the locker room often evolves into playful back-and-forth between players, reporters and Bulls staff. A new question was asked Monday: Could Williams hit his head on the rim? Coby White snuffed out the conversation with immediate indignance.
“Can he hit his head on the rim?” White scoffed. “He can look in the rim.”
So if there isn’t a problem getting up to the basket, what’s keeping Williams from having multiple double-digit rebounding games? He followed his season high Monday with five Tuesday in a road loss to the Indiana Pacers.
One piece of the puzzle is Williams’ positioning. Vučević and Drummond benefit from their role as centers — Vučević as a stretch-five or stretch-four who occasionally exits the paint for 3-pointers, Drummond as a big-bodied enforcer who rarely ventures farther than the midrange — meaning they clean up the majority of the easiest rebounds from near the rim.
By contrast, Williams is all over the court on both ends, guarding the top offensive opponents on the defensive perimeter and ranging from the 3-point arc to the rim on offense. This often places him farther from the basket when shots go up.
But that isn’t an end-all excuse. The Bulls give up the most 3-pointers in the league — which also means a high percentage of defensive rebounds are likely to be ricocheting well outside the restricted area and into Williams’ range.
Williams often emphasizes that rebounding is less about technique than it is about effort. But Williams is still learning a technical side of rebounding: when and how to pull the trigger on crashing the rim. To Donovan, the difference comes down to timing and tenacity.
“He’s just got to go,” Donovan said. “He’s got to go hard. He’s got to go aggressive.”
Whether it’s effort or technique or both, Williams always can count on one teammate to provide support and provocation: DeRozan.
It’s clear DeRozan relishes the opportunity to mentor younger players, even when — or perhaps especially when — that role requires him to press their feet to the fire.
“Y’all don’t see how much I get on (Williams’) nerves,” DeRozan said, ducking his head with a grin. “I really get on his nerves. Like, really get on his nerves. If he plays bad or he don’t compete the way I know he can compete, it’s verbal abuse.”
But as much as DeRozan might lay into Williams, he also believes in the young forward. DeRozan has been unwavering in his belief , even in the first month of the season when Williams was averaging a paltry 7.1 points and two rebounds.
Williams has begun to answer the call to improve his aggressiveness, 3-point shooting and defensive rigor. If he can similarly respond to Donovan’s challenge for double-digit rebounding games, Williams could begin fulfilling the lofty expectations placed upon him when the Bulls selected him with the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft.
“He’s one of the most versatile players on this team,” DeRozan said. “Once he gets comfortable and realizes that, like he’s doing now, he’s going to get better and better.”