Cristiano Felicio

Pace, bouncing back, Holiday shines: Observations from Bulls-Bucks

Pace, bouncing back, Holiday shines: Observations from Bulls-Bucks


The Bulls picked up their second win of the preseason, topping Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks 114-101 Friday night at the United Center.

Here are three observations from the victory:

Pace, pace, pace: Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wouldn’t definitively say whether he wanted this team to lead the league in pace in terms of the advanced stats, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say being a top-five team is a micro goal.

With that said, they got up shots early and often, not allowing the shot clock to get in the danger zone many times.

Eight of their 10 first-quarter field goals were assisted and they finished with 30 assists on the night.

“We want to play with pace and draw two to the ball. Our bigs were much better, our space was much better,” Hoiberg said. “When you can collapse the defense, generally good things happened. We had a lot of good to great plays, where we had a good shot and turned it to a great shot.”

The great equalizer? Denzel Valentine hit four triples in the first half, and Nikola Mirotic hit three of his own. Over half the Bulls’ 23 field goals came from behind the 3-point line in the first two quarters, enabling them to score 60 points. They only hit three in the second half but the tone was set.

Valentine was perfect with his first five 3-point looks before missing his final attempt. He scored 15 off the bench. Mirotic matched him and added seven rebounds.

“Playing unselfish and open shots came,” Valentine said. “I shot confidently and made my open looks. The trust factor, we’ll keep gaining that.

“We all believe in ourselves and trust ourselves. If we have an open shot, take it. Sometimes we’re almost too unselfish.”

Bouncing back from a bad loss: No matter if it’s preseason, regular season or CYO ball, getting outscored 44-11 like the Bulls were in the fourth quarter Wednesday to Dallas is bound to shake a team’s confidence, especially one as young as the Bulls.

Seeing them play with a consistent and confident effort bodes well for a season that’s sure to have more than its share of lumps.

“I give our guys a lot of credit for coming in with a great mentality this morning with practice. Our guys went out there and got better,” Fred Hoiberg said. “I think it really bothered them the way the game ended the other night. They came in focused and had a great teaching moment and carried that over to a good session on the floor.”

The Bulls played with energy and competed, two things they’ll need in full supply this season to keep the fans engaged and hopeful this rebuild is going in a position direction. 

“We know we played uncharacteristic (Wednesday),” Valentine said. “We were taking shots that weren’t good shots. On the defensive end, they were doing whatever they wanted. It was right there for us, we gotta keep playing hard, keep playing together.”

Holiday: With Zach LaVine out until at least December, Justin Holiday is admirably filling in, being aggressive without being too thirsty with his shots and getting them into the flow of the offense.

Scoring 21 and looking for his offense, there will be shots to take and he’ll be glad to do so, which will be a necessity from the shooting guard and small forward spots no matter if LaVine is on the floor or not.

“The way Fred has been with us, play your game and take what the defense gives you,” Holiday said. “So we’re moving the ball to get a situation where we can attack or have an open shot. If you have it, you have to go.

“You don’t have to, but pick and choose your times. I’m the type of person where I’ll go. In attacking those slots, the ball will still move.”

Holiday recalled an instance where he caught the ball and swung it, then looked around to realize every player on the floor was a threat to hit an outside shot—not something that will happen all the time, but enough of an instance to see nights where the Bulls can be effective.

Being in this type of offense will certainly allow him to improve on that 5.7 career scoring average. No one should be surprised if it doubles this season.

“That’s something I’ve tried to work on, something I try to do, improving my game, moving forward in my career,” Holiday said. “This offense allows you to do that. It’s so many spots I can shoot, drive and open up things for other people.”

Five takeaways from the Bulls' preseason comeback win over the Pelicans

Five takeaways from the Bulls' preseason comeback win over the Pelicans

The Bulls started slow but finished red-hot in their 113-109 victory over the Pelicans. It was an impressive way to open the preseason the slate on what expects to be a rebuilding year for a team littered with youth.

The Bulls will be right back at it tomorrow night against the Mavericks on NBC Sports Chicago, but before we get to that here are five takeaways from game No. 1.

1. The defense is going to struggle

This probably isn’t a news flash for anyone, but the Bulls defense is going to be very poor in 2017-18. The Pelicans scored 46 points on 70 percent shooting in the first quarter, getting every outside look they wanted and getting to the hole at will to draw fouls. True, the Pellies only shot 47 percent from the game and committed 16 turnovers, but there wasn't a lot to like on that end of the floor.

Of those few positives were Justin Holiday on the perimeter, Nikola Mirotic on the low block throwing his new body around, and Jerian Grant. Losing an All-NBA defender in Jimmy Butler was bound to hurt the Bulls' defense (that finished sixth in efficiency a year ago) but it might be worse than initially thought. Some of it is a product of putting more shooters on the floor; some of it is just not enough athleticism.

2. The Bulls are going to shoot a lot of 3-pointers

Preseason basketball is always a little more scattered than what regular season offensive sets look like. That being said, it’s clear the Bulls want to shoot 3-pointers early and often. With the Three Alphas and their ugly percentages gone, Fred Hoiberg can put lineups on the floor with four 3-point shooters. The Bulls shot a whopping 35 3-pointers in the win, with nine different players hoisting triples; to put that in perspective, last year they attempted 22.3 3-pointers per game.

They made 16 of those, which is certainly a positive sign, and got promising performances from deep from Denzel Valentine (4-for-7), Nikola Mirotic (3-for-8), Paul Zipser (2-for-3) and Jerian Grant (2-for-2). They did all that without Lauri Markkanen (and Zach LaVine), meaning even more 3-pointers could be on the way once he, and even Quincy Pondexter, returns.

3. Jerian Grant looks more comfortable than Kris Dunn

Jerian Grant said during the first week of training camp he was excited to have his first legitimate chance at earning a starting spot in the NBA. The deck is stacked against him given that his competition, Kris Dunn, was part of the Jimmy Butler trade that the Bulls need to have something to show for. But through one week (and now one game) it’s apparent Grant has the upper hand.

Grant finished with 11 points and nine assists, hit a pair of 3-pointers, grabbed a steal and finished an outstanding three-point play in the third quarter. He was a team-best +15 and had just one turnover in 20 minutes. Dunn, on the other hand, made a few careless turnovers (three in 22 minutes) and struggled defensively until late in the game in essentially mop-up time. His basketball savvy is apparent, and he has the size to compete, but he still hasn’t put it all together. He had 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting thanks to a late surge, and he added three assists. Dunn will start Wednesday against the Mavericks, but for now Grant looks like the answer at the point.

4. Justin Holiday is going to have take on a larger role than expected

At least until Zach LaVine returns, the best wing on the Bulls roster is Justin Holiday. Paul Zipser is going to contribute, and Antonio Blakeney has some solid potential. But it's Holiday that gives the Bulls their best two-way wing in a league where that's essential, tanking rebuilding or not. Holiday looked the part in his first game back with the Bulls, scoring 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting, grabbing a game-high three steals and contributing elsewhere with three rebounds and four assists. Holiday is just a career 40 percent shooter, and he's averaging less than a free throw per game 203 career appearances. If he can improve on some of that efficiency in a larger role, it'd go a long way for the Bulls. Someone has to score, and someone has to guard the NBA's top wings. Holiday could do both.

5. Cris Felicio looks like he has improved once again

When's the last time you watched Cris Felicio play and he didn't look better than the previous outing? Good luck trying to figure that one out. Big Cris, fresh off signing a four-year, $32 million deal, scored a team-high 15 poiints, grabbed five rebounds and handed out two assists. He was 6-fot-8 from the field and made all three free throws. He cleaned up the glass, showed soft hands on pick and rolls and even knocked down a 15-footer late in a close game. His pick-and-roll defense was solid and he did as a good a job as could have been expected against a talented Pelicans frontcourt.

Robin Lopez still has the reins on the starting job, but it's probably in the Bulls' favor to find as many minutes for Felicio as possible. This may be getting a little too excited, but the Bulls may have found something for the future in Big Cris.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls open preseason play against Pelicans


Five Things to Watch: Bulls open preseason play against Pelicans

1. All the new faces: The Bulls have 12 players in training camp who were not on the team a year ago. The headliners are there in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Nikola Mirotic, but with what should be one of the youngest rosters in the league there are plenty of roster spots up for grabs. Former five-star recruit Diamond Stone, Summer League standout Antonio Blakeney and athletic combo guard David Nwaba are a few names to watch as preseason begins and decisions are made.

2. The return on Jimmy: The Bulls’ rebuild will be clearer after next year’s draft, but fans will always go back to the one trade that sent them into this phase. Trading a top-15 talent in Jimmy Butler must yield a return, and though Zach LaVine won’t play until the leaves change colors the progress of Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen will loom large. Dunn has a pretty clear path to the starting point guard position, while Markkanen could fight for minutes in a sixth man role behind newly paid Nikola Mirotic.

3. Big payday for Big Cris: The Bulls’ first move in free agency this summer was handing Cris Felicio a four-year, $32 million deal.  He’s just 25 years old and has shown steady improvement in each of his first two seasons. At the very least he’s a formidable backup moving forward in the rebuild. But if the Bulls move on from Robin Lopez (potentially sooner than later) it would thrust Felicio into a starting role. If he continues to progress he could be the center of the future. How he fits into Fred Hoiberg’s style is another question, but the Bulls continue to like what they see from him.

4. Feel-good story in Quincy Pondexter: The Bulls traded for Pondexter earlier this month, and it’s going to be difficult not to root for this guy. Multiple knee surgeries cost Pondexter each of the last two seasons. He now appears to be healthy and should see game action in the preseason. When healthy he was a formidable wing, averaging 5.3 points on 42 percent shooting and 2.0 rebounds in 279 career games for New Orleans and Memphis. He’s not going to make fans forget about Jimmy Butler, but it would be a great story if he can make the team and, more importantly, stay healthy.

5. Welcome back, Rajon! The Bulls are going to see more than a few old faces from last year’s team, and they’ll get one on Opening (preseason) Night. After the Bulls bought him out over the summer, Rajon Rondo signed a one-year, $3.3 million deal with the Pelicans. Rondo was a superb teammate and excellent mentor to some of the young Bulls he’ll face on Tuesday, so it’ll be fun to watch him interact with some of those players, including Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Cris Felicio.