There’s a large contingent of NBA Twitter that’s becoming increasingly irritated at the growing coverage of Los Angeles Lakers reserve guard Alex Caruso.
I guess it makes sense for fans to miffed that a former G-Leaguer averaging 5.6 points per game who looks like he could be a shift manager at Staples is the recipient of so much praise and craze, but I advise fans dismissing Caruso as a gimmick to take a closer look.
The media isn’t being sensationalistic with this one, the dude can flat out play.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Caruso’s All-Star teammate Anthony Davis, who gave the Texas A&M product a rave review after he issued yet another difference-making performance in Los Angeles’ win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
“He always seems to make the right play, and he always tends to be in the right position at the right time all the time,” Davis said of the crowd favorite. “He’s tough, big guard, finishes well and shoots well. He reads the defense well. He can defend anybody one through three. He’s gonna lock ’em up.”
Of course, being Caruso’s teammate, you’d expect Davis to say these things, but none of it qualifies as hyperbole. AC exemplifies playing the right way and that along with his unsuspecting athleticism and his atypical journey to NBA rotation player has earned him the endearment of the Laker faithful.
He doesn’t hijack possessions with aimless dribbles like Rajon Rondo, he’s a reliable finisher at the rim, hovers around the elite-ish territory defensively for a reserve guard and most importantly he’s shown that he’s more than capable of meshing with the Lakers’ two stars in LeBron James and Davis.
Caruso presents himself as a legitimate scorer in pick-and-roll situations with Davis, and although he’s not a big-time assist guy (1.8 per game), he’s shown that he can make plays out of that situation, which of course becomes a little easier when Davis is the one rolling to the basket.
As for James, not only can he and Caruso run a 1-3 pick-and-roll, but AC has consistently used his awareness as a cutter to collect easy baskets off of James assists.
In addition to their success as a duo in the halfcourt, where they really do damage is in transition, often leaving social media ablaze with highlight plays. The latest exhibit comes from the aforementioned victory over the Pelicans.
After the Lakers’ win over the Memphis Grizzlies last Friday, James took time to highlight why the duo of he and Caruso have been so prosperous this season.
“Just playing the game the right way,” James said. “Very cerebral basketball players. We’re making winning plays, both of us. We work well together, and every minute we’re on the floor, we’re just trying to make it productive, trying to be in the plus and not the minus. It’s a great combination for our ball club.”
Being in the plus is standard for Caruso, who according to Basketball-Reference has finished as a +1 or better in 33 of the 53 games he’s appeared in this year.
LeBron James and Alex Caruso have the best Net Rating of any two-man combo in the NBA that’s played 150+ minutes. (+24.7 in 445 mins)
— The Athletic L.A. (@TheAthleticLA) February 26, 2020
Caruso has also finished +15 or better in nine contests with a handful in the +20 territory. Oftentimes these showings would come in limited minutes, showing that he understands how to maximize his impact during his stints on the floor. Caruso plays with no agenda and will unquestionably do what’s best for the team, which is the type of stuff that doesn’t go unnoticed during a title chase.
While Caruso could benefit from increased three-point accuracy (he shoots 35% on roughly two attempts per game), his most important attribute outside of defense cannot be quantified, and that’s the way he galvanizes the team with his energy.
This may sound corny, but magic seems to happen when Caruso is on the court. It’s like some Disney/Pixar fairytale type of jump-off, and don’t think I’m trying to gas because as a Lakers fan, I see this stuff on a nightly basis. His aura is undeniable, and why I can understand the annoyance from opposing fanbases, give this guy some credit! He got it from the mud, truly.
If you told Alex Caruso when he was a freshman at Texas A&M that he would be a key bench cog on a championship-contending Los Angeles Lakers team led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, he wouldn’t be able to fathom it. It’s quite possible he didn’t even dream of this during the dog days in the G-League.
Players like Pascal Siakam and to a much lesser extent, Caruso, have laid out a blueprint for current G-Leaguer’s to trace. Work hard, stay committed and be coachable, and great things may happen on the NBA front.
One must also be ready to seize the moment when it presents itself, and while Siakam has been doing that the last several seasons to the tune of an NBA championship, Most Improved Player Award and All-Star bid, it appears as if Caruso is taking care of that right now in his own way.
Once considered emergent amongst Lakers fans, it’s basically safe to say Caruso is here, which is why such a large sector of us has been clamoring for him to be blessed with more minutes. With head coach Frank Vogel cognizant of how impactful Caruso can be, maybe that day awaits in the very near future.
“‘There’s the eye test, but LeBron and Alex together is one of our best combinations throughout the season from a net rating standpoint,” Vogel said of the Lakers duo. “We’ll continue to explore ways that we can make sure that’s getting out there enough without over-doing it.”
I don’t think Alex Caruso knows the definition of over-doing it, which is comforting for Vogel and the Lakers, as they hope Caruso’s wit, energy, and steadiness spills over into the postseason.
All of those idiosyncrasies can lead to one play, moment or string of possessions that can tilt a playoff game in their favor, which is all you can ask for from a guy like Alex Caruso.
Although, a championship-clinching buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be nice just for the purpose of sending NBA Twitter into shambles.