Patrick Williams swears he was nervous the night before his (preseason) NBA debut.
“Last night was just,” Williams said, pausing, smiling. “Lot of thoughts, lot of thoughts.”
You’d never know that from watching him Friday. Williams provided the silver lining for a moribund Bulls performance, notching 12 points and three rebounds while shooting 5-for-9 from the field. The pre-sleep dose of Jay Z and Drake he said he used to calm himself worked to a tee.
So, too, did the advice of head coach Billy Donovan, who said after morning shootaround the biggest thing he wanted to see from Williams in his first game action was for the rookie to “be himself,” and play simple and unselfish, yet aggressive, basketball.
“He (Donovan) just kind of told me to play my game,” Williams said. “Of course you’re going to be nervous. But don’t go out there and try to do something that you can’t do or that’s out of your character.
“Trust your skills, trust your instinct. That kind of helped me settle down for sure. Nerves, they were there in the beginning. So for a coach to say just relax and play your game and things will come to you, that just helped me calm down a lot.”
Williams said those nerves persisted through pregame warmups: “It was overwhelming. You run out and you just start to think you’re really about to play your first NBA preseason game.”
But his first NBA bucket came with poise, a pull-up, 22-footer over an outstretched Eric Gordon in transition. On the next possession, he drained another… But shuffled his feet on the first step and was whistled for a travel.
“I’m definitely not used to it, that’s for sure,” Williams said with a laugh when asked how he’s adjusting to the speed of the NBA game. “It was definitely fast, just making the right reads.”
He settled in in the third quarter, where he scored six of his 12 points. Two came off another pull-up middy. Two came on a leaning floater after snaring an offensive rebound. And the final two — perhaps his most impressive of the night — came by way of a drive, bump, spin and fading floater over Ben McLemore.
Instructive that on a night Williams’ primary assignment was to “be himself,” the bag was on display. And, when asked about the shot-making he displayed, he shifted the focus to his teammates.
“It kind of just made the game easier, not just for me, but for my teammates,” Williams said when asked what relief, if any, his shots falling provided him. “The defense kind of had to see me as a threat. It wasn’t more so for me, but it kind of opened up driving lanes for other players and things like that. Me just being aggressive, everybody on the bench, the vets on the bench, and guys that have been there, they just kept telling me to be aggressive, look for my spots, take open shots.”
“He’s a very calm and a very simple guy,” said Wendell Carter Jr. “And when I say simple, I don’t mean that in a bad way. He gets to his spots. He takes his shots.”
Donovan echoed that sentiment.
“He has a really good feel for the game,” Donovan said. “He very, very rarely forces shots. He makes good decisions, he’s a good passer. We tried to put him in some pick-and-roll situations.
“He is really, really good when he gets into that elbow, paint area where he can shoot those one-handed lean-in shots, he’s very good at that. I thought he played very, very well considering the fact that there was no real Summer League or build up to training camp, and he had to kind of come here after the draft and kind of get started. I thought he did a really nice job tonight.’’
Williams also spent time manning tough defensive assignments, from John Wall to Eric Gordon, opportunities he relished. He also committed three turnovers, a product of his creation duties expanding as the game wore on.
But, fittingly for a 21-point loss that saw disjointed offense and leaky defense, Williams’ biggest takeaways were that of the team variety.
“It was a really good experience,” Williams said. “I think I played OK, I think me and the rest of the team, now we have film that we can watch and things we can get better at.”
That process now begins in earnest. Another date with the Rockets looms.
“It was definitely helpful for us in the long run,” Williams said of facing live competition. “Now we got film that we can go over, get back in the gym tomorrow and correct some things and go back at it Sunday.”