The 2018-2019 Los Angeles Lakers season didn’t go as planned with an injury-depleted roster falling short of making the 2019 NBA playoffs. While it was a frustrating finish to a season that began with such promise, Alex Caruso was a bright spot down the stretch.
Caruso — who occupied a two-way contract for the second straight season — didn’t receive significant playing time until March, but still made a major impact when he was on the floor. He often outplayed Rajon Rondo while playing on a much cheaper contract.
After going undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, Caruso has worked his way up from the G League, first spending a season with the Oklahoma City Blue before latching on with the Lakers during the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League. He was so impressive there that after out-dueling De’Aaron Fox in a particularly memorable game, the Lakers made him their first-ever two-way player.
The tenacity required to claw his way into the league permeates Caruso’s game. He’s a relentless defender on the perimeter where he is more than willing to sacrifice his body in order to make a winning play. He treats a loose ball like it’s a hand grenade and he’s Steve Rogers, eager to make the sacrifice for the greater good. He frequently leaves games bruised and battered, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s truly exciting about Caruso is that his offensive game is beginning to catch up to his defense. He is crafty, using well-timed back cuts to punish defenders who lose sight of him and has enough lift to throw down the surprise hammer dunk every now and then.
Furthermore, Caruso’s shooting has improved tremendously. During the 2017-2018 season, he shot just 70% from the line and 30% from the three-point line, but increased those numbers to 80% and an incredible 48% this season. While his three-point shooting is almost certainly unsustainable, teams can’t ignore him on the perimeter anymore, which is extremely important for the team’s spacing.
Put together, Caruso turned heads in an impressive sophomore season with the caveat that his sample size of 25 games is small.
Highlight Of The 2018-19 Lakers Season
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 5, 2019
Caruso is perfectly willing to dunk all over anyone who doesn’t bother boxing him out — even if it’s Kevin Durant.
While Caruso has only spent two seasons with the Lakers, he is already 25 because he stayed in college for four years and then was with Oklahoma City’s G League affiliate for a season. As a result, an argument can be made this his upside is somewhat limited, but on a team where they need players in their prime to compliment LeBron James, that isn’t a major issue.
Based on the way he played for the Lakers this season, Caruso is deserving of a full NBA contract. If the Lakers are unwilling to give him that, it’s likely that another team will because backup point guards who can shoot and defend the way he does aren’t easy to find and as such, the Lakers should be very willing to reward him for his work with a guaranteed deal.
That said, Caruso probably isn’t a player to break the bank for. The Lakers can make him a restricted free agent by extending a qualifying offer to him but that only gives them the right to match any offer from another team. If Caruso receives a significant contract elsewhere while the Lakers are chasing All-Star players, they will almost certainly have to let him walk away rather than tie up their cap space. Perhaps something can be worked out early in free agency so that Caruso is taken care of after the major shopping is done, but that would require some faith from both parties.
The Lakers could certainly do worse if they decide to give Caruso a guaranteed contract and make him their full-time backup point guard.