Patrick Williams yanked from Chicago Bulls lineup after lackluster start to season: ‘He’s got to help our team’

From the opening week of the Chicago Bulls season, it felt like a question of when — not if — Patrick Williams would be pulled from the starting lineup.

Coach Billy Donovan finally pulled the trigger Friday, replacing Williams with Torrey Craig. The change came only six games into Williams’ fourth season with the Bulls.

Although Donovan did not confirm he would bench Williams until lineups were announced, he emphasized pregame that the forward needs to make more out of his minutes — even if they come off the bench.

“We need Patrick,” Donovan said before the game. “Whatever role he is in, he’s got to help our team. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, I still think he’s an important piece and component to our team.”

The change seemed to work for Williams, who recorded his best performance of the season. Williams scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds. He looked confident in transition, moving the ball at a faster pace when playing with the secondary rotation.

After the game — a 109-107 loss to the Nets — Williams acknowledged that being moved out of a starting role motivated him.

“I always carry a chip on my shoulder,” Williams said. “Any chance I get, I’m attacking it. Obviously it gets you going. It’s just basketball, so I can’t go out there with that type of attitude. I just go out there and play basketball.”

Williams’ grip on his minutes began to slip on opening night. Craig replaced Williams in closing rotations in the last four games. Craig made an immediate case for himself, sinking a 3-pointer to score the opening points Friday.

Donovan hasn’t been committed to Williams as a starter for most of the past year. He benched Williams in favor of Javonte Green last season but was forced to return to his original lineup when Green suffered a knee injury that lingered for most of the year. He did not name Williams a starter during preseason this year. And when the forward did win the role on opening night, Donovan still made it clear he would shift lineups and rotations at the first sign of trouble.

That came early for Williams, who went 0-for-4 on 3-point attempts in the home-opening blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, finishing with eight points, four assists and three rebounds. In the last three games, he slipped further into a funk.

Williams went scoreless on the road against the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. And despite repeated pleas from Donovan and teammates to utilize his physicality as an asset, Williams still struggled to assert himself around the rim, averaging only 3.2 rebounds per game.

The forward’s struggles have been compounded by poor shooting. Last season, Williams was the sharpest long-range shooter on the Bulls, averaging 41.5% from 3-point range. Entering Friday, he was 2-for-16 on 3s, and he made 2 of 3 attempts against the Nets.

Confidence has been a key factor for Williams. But without his shot to help him find momentum, it’s clear he has fallen into a deeper rut on the court.

Williams emphasized he’s trying to keep a level head even while his minutes wane.

“I’ve always been a hard worker,” Williams said ahead of Monday’s game in Indianapolis. “I’m not a guy that goes through something and sits and sulks about it or wants pity or anything like that.”

It’s clear the Bulls are nearing a crossroads with Williams. When they selected him at No. 4 in the 2020 draft, the Bulls believed they could mold the young forward into an explosive two-way threat. But Williams never has lived up to that potential — and time is running out on his fit in Chicago.

The Bulls did not sign Williams to a rookie extension at the deadline last week. He said the looming prospect of free agency won’t affect his mentality, but it will remain a key factor for his performance.

The rest of this season will serve as an audition, both for his viability with the Bulls or any other roster in the league.


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