Patrick Williams will start the Chicago Bulls season opener despite preseason doubts, while Zach LaVine is listed as questionable – The Denver Post


Despite strife and uncertainty throughout the short preseason, Patrick Williams will start Wednesday for the Chicago Bulls in their season opener against the Miami Heat.

Coach Billy Donovan announced the decision after practice Tuesday as the Bulls prepared to depart for Miami ahead of the opener. Williams will start alongside DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vučević and second-year point guard Ayo Dosunmu.

The Bulls listed Zach LaVine as questionable as he continues to ease back from left knee surgery over the summer, but he’s expected to start if available.

The decision quieted a weeks-long debate over whether Williams would be replaced by power forward Javonte Green, who stepped into the starting lineup last season and throughout the preseason.

“I just want Patrick to be himself,” Donovan said.

The debate surrounding Williams’ inclusion in the starting lineup seemed unlikely entering his third season. Williams was the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft. Although his second season was marred by injury, he began 2021-22 as a clear starter whose future with the team remained an emphasis for the front office.

But Donovan’s decision to pull Williams from the preseason starting lineup raised questions about whether the young power forward had permanently lost the role.

Green surged during Williams’ extended injury absence last season, averaging a career-high 7.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists.

The preseason told a similar story. Williams was inconsistent and underwhelming — averaging 11 points on 42.1% shooting and 3.8 rebounds — while Green stood out with 15 points per game on 71.4% shooting and five rebounds per game.

Despite Donovan’s rotation of Green and Williams, Bulls players and coaches downplayed the competition for the starting spot throughout the preseason.

“I don’t think it’s a battle between them,” DeRozan said Monday after practice. “It’s two guys competing to make the team better, bringing whatever they can to this team to make us successful.”

Despite continuing to build his physical stature — now 6-foot-7 and 231 pounds — Williams still struggles to consistently assert himself around the rim. Donovan expressed confidence in the 21-year-old’s ability to compete at his position, but the Bulls seek consistency from Williams.

For now, however, Williams is the starter. Donovan emphasized that Williams’ position isn’t guaranteed, and he will continue to manipulate rotations throughout the opening weeks of the season to find the most efficient use of both forwards.

The Bulls understand the gravity of Williams’ performance this season. Without making major acquisitions in the offseason, his projected improvement could be one way the team keeps pace with a vastly improved Eastern Conference.

But despite the necessity to develop Williams, Donovan feels the Bulls can’t sacrifice their style of play. This season’s growth will rely on Williams taking initiative.

“We need to help them play to his strengths,” Donovan said. “You can’t get into a situation where you’re trying to manipulate or just thrust this guy for his development. You’ve got to read the game too. We want him to be aggressive and pick his spots. This is an area he’s got to grow into.”



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