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Don’t give up on Cristiano Felicio

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Is the ‘Big Cris’ fan club dying?

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Cristiano Felicio has had a forgettable season after inking a four-year, $32 million contract at the end of June. But to The Athletic analyst Will Gottlieb, we shouldn’t lose hope: Felicio has had several factors working against him this season that explain his struggles.

For starters, he’s the only Chicago Bulls carry over from last season who hasn’t benefited from the absence of both Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade.

Felicio’s slow start was partly because of the new makeup of the roster, particularly the lack of guards willing to set him up off the pick-and-roll.

For instance: Last year, about 10 percent of his shots were alley-oops (25 of 221). This year, lack of pick-and-roll chemistry with the primary ball handlers has hurt him. Twenty percent of his total makes last season were assisted by either Rajon Rondo or Dwyane Wade. See, they did have value.

After showing promise as a nimble defender on the perimeter during his first two seasons in the NBA, Felicio’s defense has fallen off a cliff this season with opponents having an offensive rating that is 7.4 points better with him on the court than when he sits.

Gottlieb presented an explanation for this phenomenon as well.

His rotations were a step slow and there was some speculation about whether he was in good enough shape to start the season. However, the Bulls have also altered their pick-and-roll coverage and that could be a contributing factor.

“It’s changed a little bit,” Felicio said. “We’re not ‘blueing,’ we’re not sending guys to the baseline as much this year. We’re just trying to cover the 3-point line. Drop back and force the floater because it’s a harder shot.”

With Nikola Mirotic already out of Chicago and a Robin Lopez trade possible, a once crowded Bulls frontcourt could thin out considerably. Felicio played consistent bench minutes until Mirotic returned from the punch.

In the last three games since Mirotic’s depature, Felicio has averaged 5.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 15.3 minutes of playing time. He’s incrementally raised a bar that was admittedly low to begin with. But, progress is progress.

With the Bulls back in tank mode and with a thinned out frontcourt, Felicio should get more of an opportunity to play in the Bulls last 29 games of the season. We shall see if he can play well enough to justify the allegiance of his cult following.