Bulls' Williams doesn't shy away from Kawhi comparisons

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, bottom, is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams during the first half Sunday in Los Angeles.

    Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, bottom, is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams during the first half Sunday in Los Angeles. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/11/2021 5:48 PM

The Kawhi Leonard comparisons don't bother Bulls rookie Patrick Williams. That's mostly because the first person to make that connection was Williams himself.

Sunday's initial meeting between Williams and Leonard was competitive. Leonard scored 35 points, Williams tallied a season-high 17 and the Los Angeles Clippers held off the Bulls 130-127 at the Staples Center.

 

"Part of the reason he was my favorite player was because I did see a lot of similarities," Williams said. "I tried to pick up on things he does. I've been trying to do that since high school. In my year in college, I tried to do it even more.

"I mean, yeah, for sure, I definitely see the potential that I have to be a player like him; definitely like a two-way player that can get stops and then also be a reliable offensive talent."

Obviously, Williams is a long way from being a defensive stopper, but in his first 11 NBA games, he's taken on Leonard, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. After each matchup, Williams said he wanted to learn from each tough assignment and keep getting better.

It's a great sign for the Bulls that Williams at least has the tools and desire to be a strong defensive player. The Bulls could certainly use a few more of those.

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After the Bulls lost to the Lakers on Friday, James made a Leonard comparison in his postgame Zoom meeting with reporters.

"I think he is going to be an exceptional talent," James said of Williams. "Long arms; he has Kawhi-type of hands that I noticed out on the floor, so I knew I couldn't play with the ball much. You can tell he is just laser-sharp on just trying to get better and better."

Leonard earned the nickname "The Klaw," a long time ago for his enormous hands. The Clippers Twitter account even posted a photo of Leonard holding two water bottles at once while sitting on the bench Sunday.

Leonard had a relatively quiet start to his NBA career. Chosen with the No. 15 pick out of San Diego State, Leonard was traded from Indiana to San Antonio for George Hill. As a rookie, Leonard averaged just 7.9 points. In his third season, he won Finals MVP.

Williams was an unknown commodity to most NBA fans until the Bulls took him with the fourth pick of the November draft. Maybe the NCAA Tournament would have been his coming out party, had it been held, since Florida State would have likely been a No. 1 seed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What was obvious right away about Williams is he's not a project with raw skills. He has surprising polish and calm to his game. He's been a good shooter, has a knack for staying square to the basket and also uses his oversized hands to drop in some floaters.

The area he needs to improve is rebounding. Through Sunday, Williams was averaging 10.3 points, but just 3.5 rebounds. He's shot an impressive 46 percent from 3-point range on 2.2 attempts per game. So if anything, the Bulls should get him the ball more.

On the defensive end, Williams had a frustrating run in the third quarter when Leonard got hot from 3-point range and the Clippers repeatedly ran him off screens set by Serge Ibaka, who didn't always remain stationary. Williams said coach Billy Donovan challenged him during a time out.

"I was there. I was contesting it," Williams said. "I think I might have even tipped one and it still went in. He called a timeout and it was kind of just, 'Figure it out.' Great players, you've just got to find a way and that's kind of what he wanted me to do."

Williams said after Sunday's game, both Leonard and Paul George offered words of encouragement.

"You really don't get a chance to look at him as your idol or the guy that you look up to," Williams said after the game. "He's just the guy that I have to guard.

"Probably on the plane ride back I'll start thinking, 'Man, I really played against Kawhi Leonard, a guy that I've seen on film for so many years.' I watched so much film on him. I did the same thing with LeBron."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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