Cristiano Felicio

Bulls’ Cristiano Felicio’s NBA future will be on the line in contract year

Bulls’ Cristiano Felicio’s NBA future will be on the line in contract year

NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Last up: Cristiano Felicio.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky | Kris Dunn | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter Jr. | Chandler Hutchison | Denzel Valentine | Shaq Harrison | Thad Young | Lauri Markkanen | Wendell Carter Jr. | Daniel Gafford | Luke Kornet

2019-20 Stats

3.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG (2.5 ORB/g), 0.5 SPG | 63% FG, N/A 3P, 78.3% FT | 8.8% USG (22 G)

Contract Breakdown

Age: 27

July 2017: Signed 4-year, $32,000,000 contract

2020-21: $7,529,020 | 2021-22: UFA

Strengths

Despite being the fifth-highest paid player on the Bulls’ roster, Felicio didn’t get much run this year, and even saw some time with G League affiliate Windy City. Injuries saw him jump into the big-league rotation with the season careening off the rails. The team is pretty clearly running the clock out on the misguided four-year, $32 million contract signed three offseasons ago.

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As far as strengths go: When Felicio did play, he was a solid screen-setter, and had his moments on the offensive glass — his 2.5 offensive rebounds per game average translated to 5.1 per 36 minutes. In his best game of the season, a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 22, he snared seven to pair with 12 points on 5-for-6 field goal shooting.

Areas to Improve

Felicio’s worst moments come amid lapses in situational awareness and decision-making. Everyone remembers when, deep into the fourth quarter of a close contest against the Washington Wizards in April 2019, he ran into an ongoing play late and accidentally knocked over Walt Lemon Jr. This season — in the spirit of interchangeability — the Bulls ran some offense through him on handoffs and from the elbows, mostly to unfortunate results. He’s not an adept distributor or pass-catcher, and is wont to clumsy turnovers — from fumbled balls to shuffled sneakers. The above attributes translate to the defensive end, as well.

His offensive game hasn’t expanded beyond the restricted area, and even in the paint his touch is suspect. He blocked two shots all year. That aforementioned four-year contract was predicated on potential that never panned out.

Ceiling Projection

Entering a contract year, the focus should be on finding a way to stay in the league as a reserve big when his current deal expires. Unfortunately, his best NBA years very well could be behind him.

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Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Tuesday begins the staggered, three-day voyage of 21 NBA teams to Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. for the 2019-20 season restart (the Raptors have already arrived).

For the Bulls, and Bulls fans, that’s not of direct consequence. Excluded from the bubble, supporters and observers will be limited to loose Bulls ties — enter: Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler — and draft lottery dreaming as the NBA’s best battle for the 2019-20 crown in Orlando.

But that doesn’t mean the next five months, which will comprise an unprecedented offseason in the league’s history, don’t hold significance for the Bulls. A likely third consecutive top-10 draft choice is on the way for the team, as are key contractual deadlines for players currently on the roster and a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

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There remains much unknown about the 2020 NBA offseason — chiefly, from the Bulls’ perspective, the salary cap, luxury tax line and status of the predraft process, the last of which has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also now in play is the matter of a possible eight-team bubble being constructed in Chicago for the squads not joining the league in Orlando, though there are hurdles galore on that front.

What we do have is a framework of a reported schedule to track through the remainder of the summer and ensuing autumn. Here are some key dates for Bulls fans to watch for the time being (all of which are, of course, subject to change given the potentially fluid nature of the league’s calendar amid the pandemic):

NBA Draft

Aug. 17: Early entry deadline for prospects

The last day for underclassmen not automatically eligible to declare for the NBA draft to state their intentions. Moved back from its original date of April 26, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Scott Phillips has you covered tracking who’s already declared or testing the waters.

Aug. 25: Draft Lottery

Typically, the early entry deadline and draft lottery would be nearly two months apart, with the combine sandwiched in between. But with the pandemic moving predraft interviews to Zoom, and live, remote workouts currently prohibited, it appears the league will squeeze both into an eight-day span, also per Wojnarowski.

The Bulls have selected No. 7 three years in a row, using those picks to draft core pieces in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. And even as the world erupts into chaos around them, they slot seventh in the lottery ranks once again this season. 

But with the NBA smoothing its lottery odds before the 2019 draft, the Bulls will have a modicum higher of a chance of leaping. They enter the lottery with a 7.5% chance of nabbing the No. 1 pick, 32% shot at vaulting into the top four and 19.7% odds of staying locked at No. 7. They also own mathematical chances at No. 8 (34.1%), No. 9 (12.9%), No. 10 (1.3%) and even 11 (0.03%).

Last nugget of note: This year’s lottery intentionally falls 11 days after the conclusion of the NBA’s eight-game seeding round in Orlando; while the eight teams left out of the bubble are locked into their current slots, the final six teams in the 14-team lottery will be populated by those who fall short of the playoffs. Right now, those six are the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. If any of them vault into the postseason during the seeding games and play-in round, they’ll flip places with the team they usurp outside of the lottery. Both the lottery order, and the order of selections 15 - 30 will be determined by team record from when the league suspended play on March 11. 

Oct. 6: Early withdrawal deadline for prospects

Any not automatically eligible prospects that declared for the draft on or before Aug. 17 will have the opportunity to rescind that declaration (and maintain NCAA eligibility) on or before Oct. 6, per Wojnarowski.

Oct. 16: 2020 NBA Draft

The draft this year will fall three days after a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals (Oct. 13), according to Wojnarowski. Broadcast, location and logistical specifics appear to be undetermined as of yet.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 6.0

Option/Offer Deadlines and Extension Eligibilities

From there, a few key decision days for players already on the Bulls’ roster loom. First and certainly not least...

Oct. 17: Otto Porter Jr.’s player option deadline

As reported by ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Otto Porter Jr. will have until Oct. 17 to decide whether or not to exercise his roughly $28.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season. His opting in appears all but a certainty (especially coming off an injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just 14 games, and amid a potentially tumultuous cap environment), and will essentially seal the Bulls’ fate as an over-the-cap team this offseason. 

Heaping that $28.5 million figure onto the Bulls’ books would bring the team’s guaranteed salaries for the 2020-21 season to $106,027,707 (numbers via Spotrac) before addressing restricted free agents or contracts for any draftees. The latest reputable pre-pandemic cap projection, from Wojnarowski, was $115 million, which could now be subject to change.

Oct. 17: Qualifying offer deadline

Also on Oct. 17 is the last day for teams to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents, per Marks. The Bulls have three: Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison. Full breakdown on the considerations at play for each here.

Oct. 18: Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Porter and Cristiano Felicio become extension eligible

The next day, per Marks, three Bulls starters become extension eligible — Markkanen on a rookie-scale basis, while LaVine and Porter are of the veteran designation.

Markkanen’s case is among the more curious in the league. His third season saw marked regression from his second in usage, opportunity and production, but given his skillset and considerable potential, he still represents a possible building block for the Bulls moving forward. A year ago — assuming expected development — we might have thought we’d be pondering a max for Markkanen at this point. Now, with a new front office regime in place, his market value is anyone’s guess. Maybe Arturas Karnisovas and Markkanen’s representation find an amenable compromise before the start of the 2020-21 season. But perhaps just as likely is Karnisovas wanting to see more from him, and Markkanen taking the opportunity to bet on himself making a leap in a contract year and earning some extra dough, as Jimmy Butler did five years ago.

RELATED: Bulls mailbag: Which free agents fit? Lauri Markkanen extension talks?

LaVine has two years and $39 million remaining on a contract he has become one of the more team-friendly in the league given his production since returning full-time from his ACL tear. Porter and Felicio’s deals enter their final years in 2020-21. Frankly, it’d be surprising to see any of them consummate extensions before Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley get a chance to see the Bulls up close and in action.

Free Agency

Oct. 18: Free Agency opens

According to Wojnarowski, free agency is expected open Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, with the moratorium period running from Oct. 19 - 23, and lifting on Oct. 24.

As mentioned, the Bulls will likely be out of the running for any appreciable cap space when that window opens. But they will have their (as of now) non-taxpayer mid-level exception to work with — possible targets for which you can peruse in K.C. Johnson’s latest mailbag.

And for what it’s worth, that luxury tax line could be worth monitoring. In a tweet Monday, Marks mentioned a previous projection of $139 million for next season’s luxury tax. That projection would have to plunge pretty far for the Bulls to need sweating it out, but in the current climate, who knows what could be on the table? If the Bulls somehow found themselves over that line, the difference in last seasons non-taxpayer and taxpayer MLE was about $3.5 million (~$9.2 million to $5.7 million).

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Grading the Bulls 2019-20 bigs: Markkanen, Carter, Young, Gafford, Kornet

Grading the Bulls 2019-20 bigs: Markkanen, Carter, Young, Gafford, Kornet

The Bulls’ 2019-20 season is officially over after 65 games.

And what a season it was.

Yes, a .338 winning percentage left them well short of preseason playoff expectations, even with the league’s novel 22-team resumption format allowing for teams within six games of the eighth seed into play-in contention (the Bulls finished eight back of the Orlando Magic).

But widespread front office overhaul — punctuated by the hires of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as general manager —  somewhat salvaged a lost season. The two now face the rigors of an unprecedented, potentially nine-month offseason that will involve draft prep, continued roster and front office evaluation, and possibly a coaching search — all while continuing to grapple with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed much of the team out-of-market, limited training capabilities and could act as a buzzsaw to the CBA as we know it.

That’s a lot to digest. And we’ll get to it all. But first, let’s tie a bow on the on-court good, bad, ugly and otherwise the Bulls endured this season, in report card form. We’ve hit the guards and wings. Last but not least: the big guys.

Lauri Markkanen

50 G, 29.8 MPG | 14.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.5 APG | 42.5% FG, 34.4% 3P, 82.4% FT | 2020-21 contract: $6,731,508

If it seemed like Lauri Markkanen was less involved in the Bulls’ offense this year than in his prior two, your eyes weren’t deceiving you. The numbers bear it out: In 2019-20, Markkanen’s usage dipped from 24.5% to 20.9%, his touches per game to from 66.2 to 45.3. He averaged 0.9 less shots than his rookie year, and played just 0.1 more minutes per game. While his catch-and-shoot and 3-point attempts ballooned in proportion to the rest of his looks, his efficiency faltered across the board. Other assertive statistics, such as his 41st-percentile defensive rebounding rate of 16.8%, slipped, as well. The bright spot was a 14-game stretch in December where he averaged 17.6 points on 50.8/41.6/83.3 shooting splits against the softest stretch of the Bulls’ schedule.

I don’t want to be too hard on Markkanen. But it was an ill-timed regression for multiple reasons. For the Bulls, seeing their second cornerstone falter in such a glaring manner in a season that began with playoff promises had to have been a wake-up call. For Markkanen, himself, a down Year 3 precluding rookie extension negotiations is far from ideal. 

The question of how it should impact our expectations for Markkanen moving forward is even more complex. The first step there is to assign responsibility for his struggles, but that’s far from a clean calculation. Sure, Markkanen could have done more to actively inject himself into the Bulls’ offense. All those missed shots left his fingertips. But Jim Boylen and the rest of the coaching staff could have taken more intention in getting Markkanen involved, too; Markkanen’s minutes and the manner in which they were allocated fluctuated game-to-game. And then there were injuries — a nagging oblique to start the year that surely impaired him shooting the ball, then a twisted ankle he played through in January, then a pelvis strain that sidelined him 15 games. Markkanen had returned for four games on a minutes restriction when the season paused, to little meaningful result.

The new management regime has vowed to get to the bottom of the above set of considerations. The tools — his shooting range and agility are so rare for a 7-footer — are still there, and he just turned 23. Whether it be a new coach, training regimen, playstyle or otherwise, something must change for Markkanen if the Bulls’ rebuild is to get back on track. For the time being, his underwhelming campaign (regretfully) receives the lowest grade of the core, in part due to the expectations it began with.

Grade: D+

Wendell Carter Jr.

43 G, 29.2 MPG | 11.3 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.2 APG | 53.4% FG, 20.7% 3P, 73.7% FT | 2020-21 contract: $5,448,840

Carter’s raw numbers are never going to jump off the page, but his value to the Bulls is immense. Along with Kris Dunn, he was the connective tissue that held an over-performing defense together this season; his mobility and smarts were especially valuable at the center position, the final and most overtaxed line of defense in the team’s blitzing schemes. His block rate declined sharply in part due to those schemes drawing him up and away from the basket in pick-and-roll coverage, but even undersized, he remains a force on the offensive and defensive glass — the best on the team by a country mile and in the upper quadrant of the NBA, statistically. His impact shows up on film, in the advanced numbers and, often, in conversation. When he went down with a severely sprained ankle in early January, the defense cratered, and the rest of the team with it. The only glaring defensive deficiency to tidy up moving forward is his fouls; Carter  committed 3.9 per game in 2019-20 — fourth in the league among qualified players — and fouled out of five contests.

Most of his improvements will need to come on the offensive end, where he was often relegated to quick pass-outs on DHOs or hunting second-chance baskets. Sprinkling in an open midrange jumper or two (which have clearly been coached out of him) couldn’t hurt, from a spacing perspective. Percentages aside, his willingness to extend his range beyond the 3-point arc is encouraging — and did you know he shot 40% at Duke? — but his ankle injury cut that experiment short for this season. It must be mentioned that he’s appeared in just 87 of a possible 137 games in his first two seasons.

The sky's the limit for Carter, especially on the defensive end. He showed that in spurts this year. He must be empowered to shoot for it. 

Grade: B

Thad Young

64 G, 24.9 MPG | 10.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.8 APG | 44.8% FG, 35.6% 3P, 58.3% FT | 2020-21 contract: $13,545,000

As I wrote a couple months back, this season was a tale of three segments for Young. They break down as follows:

  • First 24 games: 21.2 minutes, 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals; 40.9/34.2/56.7 shooting splits (8.5 attempts)

  • Next 21 games: 23.7 minutes, 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals; 43.3/34.8/64.7 shooting splits (8.9 attempts)

  • Next 19 games: 30.8 minutes (15 starts), 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals; 49.8/37.7/56 (11.1 attempts); 17 double-digit scoring performances

After the first 24 games, averaging the second-lowest minutes total of his career to only his rookie campaign, the Chicago Sun-Times first reported that Young was displeased with his role. A modest uptick in minutes ensued, as did his production and, seemingly, comfortability in the Bulls’ freshly-minted offensive and defensive systems.

Then, when Markkanen went down with his aforementioned pelvis injury, Young slid into a starters role, bumped his minutes average to over 30 per game and fully blossomed as a shooter and team defender at the power forward spot, even as the season imploded. That his best stretch of play coincided with Markkanen being sidelined is not encouraging for the long-term fit of the pairing. Nor is the fact that the two only shared the floor for 279 minutes this season, and the team sported a -3.9 net rating (with a putrid 99.1 offensive rating) in those minutes. There’s a serious question as to whether — from a basketball perspective — the two can co-exist without biting into each other’s opportunity. 

The sum of it all is a down statistical season for Young; he hadn’t averaged under 30 minutes per game since 2011-12, much less 25, and though he steadied his long-range shooting on decent volume, his percentage from the field was the lowest of his career. But marked improvements when given opportunity show he’s not necessarily on the downswing of his career. He’s still 31, played in all but one game this season and is a locker room sage. A winning basketball player on a losing team. The offensive on/off splits are ugly (though noisy), but perhaps it may have all looked different if other areas had panned out. Young was inked as a supplementary player, after all.

Grade: B- 

Daniel Gafford

43 G, 14.2 MPG | 5.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.5 APG | 70.1% FG, N/A 3P, 53.3% FT | 2020-21 contract: $1,517,981

Gafford has the chance to be a true steal from where the Bulls selected him — No. 38 overall — in the 2019 draft. His pseudo NBA debut on Nov. 18 featured 21 points, five rebounds, 10-for-12 shooting and two blocks against the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks. Many of those themes permeated his rookie year. 

Gafford ends 2019-20 the rookie leader in total blocks (56) and blocks per game (1.3), and fourth in the NBA in blocks per 36 minutes among those who played in 20 or more games. His high-flying ways stole hearts and his impossible combination of reach, bounce and force rattled rims. If he makes steady progress as a shot-blocker and rim-runner, he’s a productive NBA player and maybe the ideal backup center of the future to complement Carter. If the latter extends his range and repertoire as a facilitator (big-to-big lobs anyone?), they could even make a fun frontcourt pairing in spurts.

His tendency to overreach (he averaged 2.3 fouls per game in only 14.3 minutes per game) needs shoring up, but he was a rookie big playing in a strenuous defensive system. No reason for anything but optimism here.

Grade: B

Luke Kornet

36 G, 15.5 MPG | 6.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.9 APG | 43.9% FG, 28.7% 3P, 71.4% FT | 2020-21 contract: $2,250,000

Kornet came to Chicago a low-risk, potentially high-reward flyer. But his first season as a Bull was fraught from the beginning. Sinus obstruction surgery in November cost him eight games, and the issues that precluded it undoubtedly impaired him before the operation itself — through 10 October/November contests, Kornet was averaging four points, 1.9 rebounds and shooting 34.9% from the field (5-for-23 from deep).

By the time he got back up to speed, Gafford had emerged, and playing time came sporadically. While one of the selling points on Kornet was his obscene block rate with the Knicks in 2018-19, he struggled under the demands of persistently blitzing pick-and-rolls and the extra rotations that style elicits. His skills are probably more suited to drop coverage, where he could man the middle and use his obstructionary 7-foot-2 frame at more of a standstill. The jump shot came and went, but by the end of his season (which came in February after a severe ankle sprain sustained in practice) his 28.7% clip from deep (three attempts per) registered below expectation given his reputation as a floor-stretcher. The brightest stretch was a 14-game spell he started from mid-January through mid-February in which he averaged 10.1 points on 49.1% shooting. The Bulls went 4-10.

Kornet doesn’t make the top 100 of the Bulls’ biggest problems, but the flyer hasn’t panned out. He’s back next season in the last of a two-year deal, probably as the third center.

Grade: C-

Cristiano Felicio

22 G, 17.5 MPG | 3.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.7 APG | 63% FG, N/A 3P, 78.3% FT | 2020-21 contract: $7,529,020

Let’s not spend too much time here. Felicio popped into the rotation towards the end of the season mostly on account of injuries, and just about met current expectations. A 12-point, nine-rebound (seven offensive) performance in a win over the Timberwolves on Jan. 22 was the high water-mark.

The contract is an albatross. It expires after next season, but could hypothetically be used as a trade-filler in the meantime.

Grade: D

 

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