April 6, 2018, 3:19 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look into Brazilian man Cristiano Felicio who has regressed this year after signing a four-year, $32M deal this past summer.
Gar Forman and John Paxson have taken a lot of heat for some questionable trades in recent years – most notably the one in 2015 where they ended up trading the No. 16 and 19 picks to the Nuggets, who used them to select Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, for Doug McDermott and Anthony Randolph – but they have also been successful at locating little known players like Paul Zipser and Cristiano Felicio. The Brazilian center played professionally in his country for Minas Tênis Clube between 2009 and 2012 before moving to Sacramento in order to attend CCSE Prep Academy in 2012–13. He attempted to gain NCAA eligibility and play for the University of Oregon next year but he was deemed ineligible, went undrafted and returned to Brazil where he played a couple more seasons for Flamengo, winning both the 2014 FIBA Americas League and the FIBA Intercontinental Cup. The Bulls offered him a training camp invite in 2015 and Felicio slowly built his way up into the rotation after some breakout performances that solidified his place on the team and allowed him to sign a lucrative new deal. So what has gone wrong this season?
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The Right Personnel for Fred Hoiberg’s Offense
I’ve made my case before for Fred Hoiberg being an underrated coach and it’s unfortunate that last year he was put into a position to coach a team not equipped with the right talent to run his offense. The front office failed to address shooting needs so crucial to today’s game and Hoiberg’s preferred pace-and-space offensive philosophy was quickly thrown out of the window in favor of ISO plays for Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. “We had two completely separate identities with our two groups last year,” Hoiberg noted. “With our first group we ran a lot of short pick and roll and tried to beat teams up in the paint and we did a pretty good job of that. The second group was more a spacing group.” A major overhaul on the Bulls roster this summer opened the path for a transition to a completely different offensive scheme that empowered versatile forwards like Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen to thrive into the new system.
Hoiberg runs a fast-paced, volume three-point shooting system with plenty of cross screens and basket cuts. His offensive sets are based on movement, spacing and attacking while creating multiple options, multiple reads and less rigidity. This kind of action creates constant spot up opportunities for shooters while minimizing post up plays for traditional big men like Felicio. That doesn’t mean that big men don’t have a place in this offense but their role is to facilitate instead of execute. Take a look at the DHO action that Felicio runs, giving Justin Holiday the ability to catch a pass in a triple-threat position (shoot, pass or drive) as he easily converts the floater.
The Transition to a Kris Dunn-Led Offense
Felicio is by no means the type of player who can create offense for himself and his game is really dependent on the team’s point guard play. You can’t expect to see him post up opponents in Hoiberg’s offense and he won’t attempt to take someone off the dribble, so basically he needs guards who can get him the ball at the right place and time. Felicio was able to develop great chemistry with some of his teammates last year and that led to plenty of easy points off the pick-and-roll action as defenses were more focused on guards instead of him. Look at how Dwyane Wade draws a double team coming off the pick-and-roll leading to an easy lob for Felicio that he successfully converts.
Things have been quite different in Chicago this year with Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant running the show and playmaking not always being there with both of them. The talent downgrade from Wade of course is significant as teams don’t view any of the Bulls guards as a big offensive threats coming off the pick-and-roll and are less likely to double either one of them. Additionally, the defending big men are going to sag back into the paint, taking away the space for Felicio to get the ball. Cody Zeller won’t bother leaving Felicio in order to double team Kris Dunn and the young guard has to take a bad shot while the big man is locked deep down in the post.
Good Mobility but Possible Weight Issues
Felicio is not a superior athlete and his physical attributes along with the lack of athleticism have always made him a questionable project. He is not super skilled and doesn’t have any great post moves, but he occupies a lot of space and is very quick off the ground to finish around the rim. If he was a little taller he would be a dominant defensive force but he is barely 6’10” with an unimpressive wingspan and opponents are usually able to shoot over him easily. Look at how an underwhelming offensive player like Ed Davis is able to score against Felicio on an easy drive to the basket.
Unfortunately, this season, he hasn’t looked like he’s in the same physical situation that enabled him to be an athletic, defensive force in 201, while Dwyane Wade is also not around anymore to throw lobs to him for easy dunks. More troubling is his lack of impact defensively. Even though his minutes are up, his rebounding numbers have regressed (only 2.5 defensive per game), he can’t block any shots (0.2 per game) and he is committing more fouls than ever before (1.9 per game). Felicio doesn’t do much to protect the basket while the fancy footwork and lateral quickness that made him a solid perimeter defender last year has vanished this season. The numbers are brutal as the Bulls, with Felicio on the court, have a net rating of -17 (the worst on the team) while with him as a starter, the team is an atrocious -23.3.
Back to Basics
Felicio simply needs to focus on wreaking havoc defensively and crashing the offensive boards, two areas where he has been very effective in his entire career. Fred Hoiberg has praised the big man in the past for the little things that he can do that primarily help the team, not his numbers. “His big thing is making an impact defensively with his pick-and-roll coverage. We felt he was one of the best bigs in the league a year ago with that,” Hoiberg said. “And then make winning plays on offense, which is rolling to the rim, catching the ball and finishing while setting great screens.” Felicio is a big body. You absolutely feel his screens and he can certainly be used to facilitate the offense by opening up shots for his teammates. Look at him using his body very well to screen and roll to the basket, pushing his opponent outside of their comfort zone defensively, leading to an open three by Bobby Portis.
For being a young player, his court awareness has always been very impressive. Felicio has generally good instincts on defense and has shown that he can read the action but he is not a rim protector and it’s really difficult to imagine him becoming an elite shot blocker due to his below average wingspan and inability to jump high from a standing position. Therefore defending the pick-and-roll is critical for his presence on the court, but this has also not been his forte this year. He does a great job of stepping out and hedging ball screens, a situation very important in today’s pick-and-roll heavy NBA, but he is fouling too much instead of simply disrupting the action. Here is him hedging hard on a pick-and-roll by the Suns but failing to control his body and uncharacteristically fouling Mike James who had nowhere else to go.
How the Bulls Failed Him
The Bulls coaches have always praised his work ethic and it wasn’t a surprise that the organization signed him to an extension as they believed that he will continue to improve, but that hasn’t happened this season. Chicago, having a number of excess big men, also didn’t help Felicio’s case while the breakout play of Lauri Markkanen has forced Fred Hoiberg to experiment at times with Bobby Portis playing at the five, taking away more minutes from the Brazilian big man. He logged many DNP’s earlier this year and Hoiberg credited those to matchup issues but his lack of playing time also has to do with the way the team has played with him on the floor. Granted, Felicio doesn’t exactly fit the profile of an ideal modern NBA big man. His shooting range doesn’t extend out to the 3-point line and he doesn’t shoot it from the mid-range enough for defenders really to respect that part of his game. His stroke is fundamentally sound though, and I’d love to see him shoot the ball more often.
The Bulls suddenly inserted him in the lineup once they decided to go full tank mode but the chemistry was not there and Felicio was given a very short leash. The team is at the bottom of the league running the fewest amount of ISOS and post ups and the big man is not going to be a game changer for Chicago but he can develop into a consistent bench player and an energy guy the Bulls can rely on. He hasn’t brought any of these traits this year and the Bulls probably overpaid for Felicio in retrospect, especially since they jumped right into the deal and were probably bidding against themselves. But with the team probably looking to move Robin Lopez via a trade this summer, Felicio could be up for an increase in minutes next year as long as the Bulls don’t draft a big man this summer.
Hope you enjoyed reading this article and please make sure you check us back again next week. Keep pushing for the trophy in your leagues by staying up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of April 6th.
May 19, 2019, 1:40 amStephen Curry - G - Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry scored 36 points in Saturday's 110-99 Game 3 win over the Blazers, adding six rebounds, three assists and five turnovers.
Curry led his team offensively, contributing 36 points on 11-for-26 shooting. On a night where teammate Draymond Green was the primary facilitator, Curry settled in on scoring the bulk of his team's points from off the ball screens and shots from behind the arc. The Warriors have the luxury to allow for multiple ball-handlers and Curry seemed happy to acquiesce as he and Klay Thompson combined for 55 points with seven 3-pointers. Look for Curry to continue to lead the team in scoring as Kevin Durant is not expected to be back this series.
May 19, 2019, 1:37 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that Damian Lillard has been playing through separated ribs in the Western Conference Finals.
Charania and Sam Amick have since reported that the injury occurred in Game 2 when Kevon Looney landed on Lillard's ribs. To this point he's playing with a pad on his torso, though his current run of poor shooting extends back into the second round before the injury was sustained. The Blazers are facing a deep hole down 0-3 to the Warriors, and Lillard will surely be finishing out the series despite his injury. Between the ailment and Golden State selling out to stop him, Lillard has had to battle through quite a bit in the WCF.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
May 19, 2019, 1:09 amDamian Jones - C - Golden State Warriors
Damian Jones got the start for the Warriors but played just three minutes after picking up three fouls in the first quarter to finish with no other countable statistic in Saturday's win.
Jones got the start and then got the hook early after drawing three fouls in the first 3:17 of Game 3. Jones got the start over Andrew Bogut after playing just two minutes in Game 2 and two minutes in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Bogut and Jones played a combined six minutes this game and did not contribute anything offensively. Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney picked up the slack and ended up playing 42 minutes and contributing 14 points. It is unlikely that Jones will start again going into Game 4.
May 19, 2019, 12:55 amDraymond Green - F - Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green went off on Saturday's win, posting a monster 20-13-12 line and adding four steals and one block.
Draymond was all over the court for the Warriors posting his seventh career postseason triple-double. With his team down 13 points to start the second half, Green channeled his inner Magic Johnson and rallied the Warriors with six rebounds, six assists and two steals to take the lead going into the fourth quarter. His defensive intensity continues to be a catalyst for the team and is a major reason why the Warriors continue to dominate in this series.
May 19, 2019, 12:39 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Moe Harkless scored six points and added three rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in Saturday's loss.
Harkless did all of his damage in the first half and looked to be on his way to a great game scoring six points and adding two steals/blocks. Unfortunately he would not score again and added just one assist to his stat line in the second half. Fellow forward Al-Farouq Aminu added just two points in the losing effort and he and Harkless continue to get marginalized in the Blazers' small-ball lineup. Harkless has the ability to contribute for the team and they will need him to re-find his aggressiveness if the they plan on making this a series.
May 19, 2019, 12:26 amSeth Curry - G - Trail Blazers
Seth Curry went 2-for-6 from the field for five points, adding three rebounds, one steal and one turnover in Saturday's loss.
Curry continues to play heavy minutes for the Blazers, playing 30 minutes in the Game 3 loss. Unfortunately, similar to the rest of his team, he could not get much going offensively by contributing just five points and not much else. The team continues to feature a small lineup featuring Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Curry in hopes of pushing the tempo. Expect him to continue to see big minutes off the bench as he hopes to contribute more offensively in Game 4.
May 19, 2019, 12:23 amAndre Iguodala - G/F - Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala was limited to 18 minutes in Saturday's Game 3 win because of left calf tightness and is expected to undergo an MRI on Sunday.
Iguodala posted two points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal while going 1-of-5 from the field. With the Warriors taking a stranglehold on the series with tonight's win, it's fair to question whether or not they ask Iguodala to push through his injury. It doesn't appear to be overly serious but we will find out more tomorrow.
Source: Mark Medina on Twitter
May 19, 2019, 12:12 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard shot 3-for-9 from behind the arc on 5-for-18 overall on Saturday, resulting in just 19 points with six rebounds, six assists, two steals and five turnovers in 40 minutes.
Lillard’s shooting woes continue into Game 3. He and CJ McCollum shot a combined 12-for-38 from the field, 5-for-19 on 3-pointers and 13-for-20 from the free throw line in the loss. Three games into Western Conference Finals, Dame has shot 15-for-46 from the field. The Blazers will lean on Lillard to find his shot going into Game 4 where they host the Warriors in hopes of extending the series.
May 18, 2019, 11:55 pmMeyers Leonard - F/C - Trail Blazers
Meyers Leonard got the start at center for Portland and scored 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting, adding three 3-pointers, three rebounds and four assists in Saturday's loss.
Leonard got the start over Enes Kanter before the start of the game and responded well by scoring 16 points. Though quiet in the second half, he was a difference maker in the first half with his hustle and ability to stretch the floor. Kanter, who moved to the bench, responded with seven points in seven minutes and did not do much to bump Leonard out of the starting lineup going into Game 4.
May 18, 2019, 10:11 pmAndre Iguodala - G/F - Golden State Warriors
After a brief trip to the locker room at the end of the first quarter on Saturday, Andre Iguodala has checked back into the game in the second quarter.
Apparently, there's no cause for concern and Iguodala is back in. Every time the 34-year-old veteran heads to the locker room, there's always a risk and some accompanying worry. All good. Iguodala and his elite defense is back on the floor to hassle the Blazers.
Source: Tim Kawakami on Twitter