Bulls' second-half wish list starts with Williams, Carter
Learning how to finish off close games will be high on the Bulls' priority list during the second half of the season.
But the area with the largest room for improvement might be getting more aggressive and consistent efforts from rookie forward Patrick Williams and third-year center Wendell Carter Jr.
They saw some glimpses of that in Wednesday's victory at New Orleans. Williams scored 7 points in the first quarter and Carter collected 13 of his 15 rebounds in the first half.
After the game, Williams was asked if he found motivation in being left off the Rising Stars rosters, which the NBA announced Wednesday, even though no rookie-sophomore game will be played this year. Williams responded in typical low-key style.
"I actually didn't even know that they were going to name the list until maybe this morning," Williams said. "Coach Josh Longstaff asked me how I felt about not making it. I told him that I didn't even know that they were going to name the guys.
"It doesn't really bother me. I love the game of basketball. I play the game of basketball because I love it, because I love to get better, because I love to win ultimately. The gifts and being named Rising Star is cool and all, but that's not why I play the game. So it really had no impact on me."
Williams said he planned to visit Los Angeles during the all-star break, hit the beach and soak in some warmer weather. He also switched to third-person mode to set a goal for when the Bulls return to action March 11 against Philadelphia.
"They're going to get an aggressive Patrick," he said. "Tries to get downhill and make plays for himself and for the rest of the team. I pretty much think that's what they can expect."
That would be an interesting development for the Bulls. They've seen glimpses of great potential, but Williams has spent more time squaring up for jump shots than attacking the rim and using his athletic talents. At the break, he's averaging 10.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, while getting a heavy dose of playing time for a rookie at 28.5 minutes per game.
Coach Billy Donovan was pretty straightforward when asked about the plan for Williams.
"He's got to attack," Donovan said. "He's got to be an attacking player. I trust his shot, but he's got to be a guy that can facilitate, put it on the floor, create, attack the basket and play-make. I think the more we can give him confidence doing that, the more it opens up things for him and for our team."
For Carter, the rush of rebounds against New Orleans was a nice bounceback from quiet games against Denver and Phoenix. One conceivable scenario for the second half is getting Carter some help. Cleveland center Andre Drummond has been sitting out the past few weeks while the team attempts to make a trade, and NBA analyst Shams Charania wrote that the Bulls have inquired.
Drummond is on the final year of a big contract, so a straight-up deal for Otto Porter would work salary-wise. Since it won't be easy for the Cavs to move such a big contract, maybe there's a slight chance that trade could happen.
In theory, Drummond wouldn't necessarily be the long-term solution at center, but maybe he could help push Carter's development forward and also give the Bulls a better chance of making the playoffs. Going back to his years in Detroit, Drummond has been known more for offense than defense, but he's grabbed at least 20 rebounds against the Bulls nine times in his career.
Carter helped save the game against the Pelicans. After New Orleans trimmed a 19-point Bulls halftime lead to 4, he tipped in Coby White's 3-point miss to put the visitors up by 6 with 1:05 remaining.
Donovan discussed Carter's midseason status after the game in New Orleans.
"I think the thing for Wendell, for him to realize his fullest potential, he's way too hard on himself," Donovan said. "He is very, very, very critical of himself, has a really hard time at times of moving past things.
"But for him to realize his fullest potential he's got to get to a place to realize how important he is to our team; how good of a player he is. And he's just got to compete. Can he compete when he has some setbacks or mistakes? I thought he did that (Wednesday). That was really encouraging to see."