2018-19 NBA Season Review
Very few things went right for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2018-19 NBA season, but there were a couple of positives that shone through and arguably none were brighter — or more unexpected — than Alex Caruso‘s growth.
In the second year of a two-way deal, Caruso again spent much of the season with the South Bay Lakers where he averaged 14.0 points, 5.8 assists, and 2.1 steals in 27 games. However, once the injuries really took their toll on the Lakers and the 2019 NBA playoffs were out of reach, he got his chance to shine and took advantage in a major way.
Caruso looked like a completely different player with the Lakers after two seasons of developing. In 20 games after the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend, he averaged 11.2 points (46.9% shooting from the three-point line), 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals. He also added some highlight-reel dunks (and near posters) that made him a SportsCenter constant and further endeared him to the Lakers faithful.
Things became even more unbelievable during the final stretch as Caruso averaged 17.2 points, 8.4 assists, and 4.8 rebounds in the final five games of the season. This included three double-doubles and a career-high 32-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers.
All this resulted in Caruso shedding the two-way tag and finally being rewarded with a two-year, $5.5 million deal.
2019-20 NBA Season Outlook
The big question regarding Caruso heading into the 2019-20 season is whether the late-season show was proof of development or merely an aberration. The Lakers have been through this before (Tyler Ennis anyone?) and Caruso will be the latest test case heading into his third season.
Detractors will point towards those late games having no meaning for the Lakers, but that was not the case for their opponents. The team’s last five games all came against playoff teams fighting for position, so they had every reason to shut Caruso down — and obviously failed to do so.
Nonetheless, when it comes to the new season, the opportunity for Caruso to make an impact is there.
The point guard position is a huge question mark for Los Angeles. Rajon Rondo is the likely favorite to start and while he brings excellent playmaking and leadership, he is a negative on defense and an average shooter at best. Quinn Cook brings reliable shooting, but is not much of a creator and can also be a liability defensively. Caruso could very well offer the best combination of everything.
The 25-year-old has shown he can make open shots, is a capable ballhandler and creator who can operate in the pick-and-roll, and is easily the best defender of the bunch. At 6’5″, he also offers some flexibility on that end of the court.
It is very possible that last season’s heroics were simply a flash in the pan and Caruso shows himself to be a fringe NBA player. The other side of that is Caruso being another example of the team’s scouting staff finding a gem in the rough and developing him into a legit rotation player.
With this roster, Caruso has a chance to play a major role on a team with championship aspirations, but it will be on him to prove that he is deserving of that spot and capable of handling the spotlight that comes with it. There will be no more sneaking up on anyone for Caruso moving forward.