As free agency opened last summer, the Chicago Bulls signed behemoth Brazilian big man Cristiano Felicio to a four-year, $32 million contract extension.
Nine months later, and The Ringer writer Danny Chau is bestowing Felicio with the title of “the most valuable tanker in the league.”
Life comes at you fast.
Felicio—every bit of the 6-foot-9, 280 pounds he’s listed at—seems to have been built in the mold of Cleatus, the dancing animated robot on Fox’s NFL Sunday broadcasts. He sets bone-breaking screens seemingly by accident. He has a soft touch on his midrange jumper, which might be his best weapon on offense. And with all due respect to Emmanuel Mudiay, who is killing the Knicks, Felicio is, by the numbers, the most valuable tanker in the league this season
From there, Chau runs the on/off numbers with Felicio and well ... hide the children because this is some disturbing content. This season with Felicio on the court, the Bulls have a net rating of -24.8. With Felicio as a starter, the Bulls are an unfathomable -38.7.
According to NBA.com, eight out of the Bulls’ 10 worst two-man lineups by net rating (minimum 100 minutes together) involve Felicio. His “best” two-man pairing partner (again, minimum of 100 minutes of playing time together) is with Jerian Grant, and the two are a -20.7 together.
Felicio hasn’t played well with a single teammate who he’s shared the court with across a decent sized sample size. That is concerning.
The frustration with Felicio is that he hasn’t built on the glimpses of promise he showed the last few years when he thrived in the niche role of a rim-rolling big man who was athletic enough to defend the perimeter on defense.
He also 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 distance enough for defenders really to respect that part of his game (about 14 percent of his shot attempts come from 10 feet from the basket up to the 3-point line).
Felicio also doesn’t do much to protect the basket (1.4 percent block rate this season). The fancy footwork and lateral quickness that made him a solid perimeter defender has vanished in stretches this season, too. We’ve seen far too much of this:
Kemba Walker toying with Felicio pic.twitter.com/ljNKHSsEa2— Dime on UPROXX (@DimeUPROXX) February 28, 2018
To be fair, the inconsistent guard play from the Bulls this season hasn’t helped his cause as a large helping of his offense last season came on pick-and-roll plays with Dwyane Wade.
Is it time to give up on the Felicio experiment? Quitting on him is a little premature, but it’s at the very least troubling to see a player that a franchise signed based on glimpses of potential regress or fail to improve in a number of areas after he signed the lucrative deal this summer.
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 trade this summer, Felicio could be the only true center on the Bulls roster that Hoiberg would be willing to play next season (sorry Omer Asik).
Felicio should continue to get opportunities, but can the mild-mannered Brazilian big man make the most of them? Here’s hoping that the non-assuming, likeable Felicio can get it figured out.