Last season the Bulls finished second to last in the league in points off of turnovers at only 13.3 per game. Some of that can be attributed to their pick-and-roll coverage which was a more conservative style.
Going into his second season as head coach, Fred Hoiberg wanted to increase those points via turnover by adjusting the Bulls coverage in the PnR. We first saw a glimpse of this during summer league in July, with Bulls in a more aggressive scheme hedging and sometimes even trapping the ball-handler.
During the preseason, which recently came to a close Thursday night we were able to see more of Hoiberg’s aggressive scheme in action. For players like Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio, when defending the PnR they were either hedging or trapping the ball-handler. More times than not it was the former. While big man Robin Lopez, because of his lack of mobility would drop back staying between the rim and the ball-handler ala Pau Gasol the last two years.
Needless to say the defense is a work in progress. However one thing that we can take away from the new aggressive scheme that Hoiberg has implemented is that second year big man Felicio has excelled.
Maybe excelled is too far, but Felicio has shown to be very effective early on in hedging ball screens.
What is hedging the ball screen you may ask? Well as the defender guarding the ball-handler fights over the screen, the big man defending jumps in front essentially stopping the ball-handler forcing him away from the basket until the guard can recover back.
Felicio does a great job here forcing the ball-handler, Jeff Teague, away from the play toward the sideline. Pressured to make a pass before falling out of bounds, Teague lofts a pass back to Al Jefferson at the elbow. Reading the action accurately, Portis picks off the pass with the play ending with a layup.
Earlier in the quarter Felicio doesn’t do the best job of hedging the ball-handler. Instead of jumping in front of Aaron Brooks as he should have done, Felicio sags a bit on the drive allowing him to get just below the three point line. But with Felicio’s quickness and light feet he’s able to contain him, essentially cutting off his drive towards the basket.
It was after this game that Hoiberg lauded Felicio’s defense against the PnR, via the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson:
“Hoiberg praised reserve center Cristiano Felicio for his ball-screen defense and said his aggressiveness helped change Saturday’s victory over the Pacers.”
One of the biggest aspects of hedging the ball screen in the PnR is not letting the ball-handler turn the corner off the screen. If that does happen then it puts the defense at a disadvantage, scrambling to recover.
At the end of the first quarter against Charlotte, Felicio is perfect in not letting Ramon Sessions turn the corner. As he cuts off Sessions he sprints back to his man Spencer Hawes, then cutting off Sessions drive back to the right side of the lane. With a bad closeout from Dwyane Wade, Jeremy Lamb drives toward the basket where Felicio is waiting as he rotates over in help-defense cutting him off and forcing Lamb into a bricked floater.
Here Felicio is presented with a short PnR below the three point line right around the elbow. Jerian Grant flies under the screen and Milwaukee’s Malcom Brogdon does a good job of reading that, coming back to the left side using Thon Maker as another screen again. Felicio stays home and jumps Brogdon as comes back to the left side.
Even though the Bulls got a turnover here, they were lucky. Portis on the weak-side was late on his rotation, but thankfully for him Grant was able to use his length to deflect the pass. If we were to go back to the second clip above from Indiana, at the very end we see Portis standing in help-side preventing Myles Turner’s roll to the basket. However, what we don’t see at the end is Tony Snell not rotating over in time and the play ends with Turner making a pocket pass for a layup.
Which leads us to the next emphasis in hedging or trapping ball screens. The rotations have to be timed perfectly or else the offense can take advantage. While Felicio may be able to hedge correctly, if the other three or four guys aren’t in the correct position ready to help then it’s all for naught.
Felicio still has quite a ways to go as a player. He’s still very raw offensively in terms of his skill-set, and defensively he can lag behind in rotations in addition to stretch bigs presenting difficulty for him as well. But he does enough of the little things well, rolling and finishing out of the PnR on offense, defending the ball screen on defense that he’ll earn a bigger role in his second year.