There’s something smooth about the way Patrick Williams pulls up for his midrange jumpshot. Maybe it’s the way he stops suddenly and soars over defenders. Or the lofting arc on his shot. Or perhaps it’s the confidence the Chicago Bulls rookie displays in what has become a go-to move during the strong start to his NBA career.
“It’s always been a part of my game,” Williams said. “I’ve been shooting in that midrange area pretty much since high school. As I went through college and now that I got here I see that it’s kind of open more, off the pick and roll.
“We have so many shooters on the court, it’s so spread open that a lot of times the defense just wants to take away threes and dunks, so that midrange area is always open. So, I mean, I’m just comfortable there.”
Williams’ comfort level from the midrange has been clear through his first 11 games.
When Williams is not using a floater that looks more like a shot-put to push the ball into the basket, more than half (51%) of his attempts come from midrange, per Cleaning the Glass data. It’s a high number — for comparisons sake, about 30% of Zach LaVine’s shots come from midrange — but Williams has found success. Entering Friday, he has knocked down 17 of his 43 attempts (40%), including half (10-for-20) of his shots between the free throw and three-point line, which are classified as long twos.
It makes Williams, the second-youngest player in the NBA, somewhat of a throwback in an era when coaches and teams de-emphasize the midrange shot — or more specifically contested long twos early in the shot clock — in favor of higher-percentage shots at the rim or threes.
“He’s good in that (midrange) area, but my biggest thing with Patrick and those shots in those area is if he can get off a good look,” Donovan said. “He’s got the athleticism to elevate over people, but if he gets into that teeth of that defense and he’s shooting that one-handed pull-up jumper, he’s really efficient at it. I’m fine with it.
“I think it’s a really hard shot to make when you’re shooting over outstretched arms or hands. But for the most part, he’s gotten into good areas of the floor where I think it’s a real consistent, makable shot for him.”
It’s clear Donovan won’t try to make drastic changes to Williams’ game, at least not right away. When the Bulls hired him this fall, he touted the idea of creating an offense catered to player strengths and made good on that, allowing players room to operate from the midrange.
The results have been mixed. The Bulls started Friday ranked ninth in the NBA in midrange shot attempts (34.2%) and are knocking down 46.4% of them, the second-highest rate in the league. But most of this success has come inside the foul line. The Bulls also take the eighth-most percentage of long twos in the league (12.5%), but are converting only 40.2% of those shots, which ranks 24th.
The balancing act they will attempt to strike both as a team — and with Williams — will be to make sure they do not settle for jump shots too often, especially when contested. The Bulls are a bottom-five team in the league in attempts at the rim and right in the middle of the pack, 16th, in attempts from the three-point line.
“I don’t like dictating to a team, like, ‘Hey, we only want to take 3s or layups.’ Every team in the league wants those,” Donovan said. “I think you’ve got to play to guys’ strengths. There’s a flow and a rhythm to the game. There are players that are good in the midrange who are comfortable getting to those spots.
“Certainly if we can get more good quality three-point shots, we’d be more than happy to take them. I’m not putting a limit on how many they should take, and I’m not obviously telling them to shoot more. We’ve got to take what the defense gives us. But we’ve got to generate good shots. That’s been the biggest thing.”
At 19 years old and less than two months removed from being selected No.4, it’s probably not prudent for the Bulls to start tinkering with Williams’ shots just yet. However, he’s going to his midrange shot roughly four times per game, a high amount for a rookie role player, and could almost certainly benefit from a little more balance in the future.
The time will come for that. Williams is a rookie still getting adjusted to the NBA and the Bulls have already thrown a lot at him.
“I’ve always felt like in dealing with guys’ shots and their shooting, I think the most important thing for a shooter is to be comfortable,” Donovan said. “And I think when you start taking a guy at 19 years old, taking arc off his shot and changing his form, a lot of the times you’ve got to take a lot of steps backward before you can move forward. I think for us as a staff, we need to get a lot more inventory on him shooting the basketball, certainly at the professional level.”
That’s not to say the Bulls should discourage midrange shots or not allow Williams to play to his strengths. But his offense game has been impressive in other areas of the court as well that are probably being under-utilized.
Williams has been a better-than-expected three-point shooter so far, hitting 11 of his 24 attempts (45.8%) from beyond the arc, most of which have come from the corner. He’s only taking about a fourth of his shots at the rim, but he’s athletic and skilled enough to attack the basket more frequently, either to score or to use the passing skills he’s only shown in flashes.
“(The coaching staff) sees that sometimes when I get downhill, I either get to the rim or I get a foul or I kick it out to an open shooter,” Williams said. “So they definitely try to incorporate getting downhill a little bit more. But they just embraced it. They just embraced that I play in that midrange area. They don’t want everything to be in that midrange area of course, they want a well-balanced game, but they just incorporate that into their gameplan.
“They don’t really tell us too much about what shots to shoot, just make sure that we’re getting good shots each and every time down the floor.”