Last night was a bittersweet night for the Chicago Bulls. While they came away with their first decisive and dominant victory of the season, beating Utah by 17 points, they also had to bear witness to one of their most regrettable decisions of recent memory. Lauri Markkanen poured in 29 points on 8-of-15 from the field and added five three-point field goals in the losing effort. With Patrick Williams headed for a similar trajectory as the latter part of Markkanen’s rookie contract, Chicago will soon face a similarly tricky decision regarding his future. Do the Bulls extend the 22-year-old forward and learn from their mistakes, or is this scenario different entirely from Markkanen’s a few years ago?
Sixth Man Patrick Williams
Friday night’s NBA In-Season Tournament kickoff was met with the first significant decision by Billy Donovan’s staff, moving Williams to the second unit. While the fourth-year forward started on the pine, he has played a substantial role for the Bulls in the past three games, and his usage has risen. He’s now played in five games as a starter and three in a reserve role. The numbers speak for themselves from both a production and efficiency standpoint. His usage has also slightly risen since being removed from the starting five, and his opportunity to flourish offensively has proven effective.
Speaking in contract terms, there’s little-to-no justification for meeting his lucrative demands. Unless Williams can sustainably produce even higher numbers than he has in the last three, his script is already written for this summer. Chicago will likely let him test free agency, with the ability to match any qualifying offer should they so choose, similar to Coby White this past summer. At this rate, there will not be much of a bidding war, and if a team is willing to gamble north of $25 million annually, he’ll likely be in different threads in 2024.
Markkanen’s Rise To Stardom
Lauri Markkanen’s situation differs from Williams’s in that his usage throughout his career in Chicago declined even though he flashed 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in his sophomore campaign. The efficiency was lacking, but the shot-making ability was evident, and the skillset was apparent. With time, there were flashes of great potential. He also was not healthy for over 52 games in his final three years with the Bulls, another factor for letting him go.
Williams, on the other hand, has been available for 71 or more games in two of his first three years, has seen his minutes increase when healthy, and has yet to capitalize on the growing opportunity. His numbers have fractionally increased over his career, and he has shown minimal progress throughout his young tenure in the NBA. Aside from his athleticism and defensive prowess, there’s hardly any solid evidence for Chicago to make him the cornerstone of the future that Markkanen is in Utah. Markkanen was named to his first All-Star team in 2022 and the NBA’s Most Improved Player, averaging 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds on nearly 50% shooting from the field.
Still Hope In The Building
The curious nugget to Patrick Williams’s slow start to 2023 is that he and his coaches continue to echo the sentiment that they want him to be a part of their future. Donovan’s remarks after last night hinted at Williams’s possible departure but underlying potential, and Williams repeated that Chicago is where he wants to be.
Can Williams abruptly turn this abysmal start to 2023 around and earn his desired contract, or will the 22-year-old forward be shown the door after a fourth-straight underwhelming season in Chicago?