In the Los Angeles Lakers’ final two games of the longest road trip of the season, head coach Frank Vogel shrank the rotation to nine players.
While it did remove Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris temporarily, it also meant more minutes for Alex Caruso, who had been averaging fewer playing time than last season despite an excellent postseason run that had carried over into the current campaign.
In the nine-man rotation games, Caruso received 20 and 25 minutes, respectively. The latter is Caruso’s season high. Unsurprisingly, he led the team in plus-minus both nights. Not only that, it was the fourth game in a row in which Caruso led the team in that category.
At this point, it’s impossible to doubt Caruso’s value to L.A., something Vogel is fully aware of even if he doesn’t always give him the minutes he deserves. “He’s certainly one of our best players,” Vogel said.
“That’s the simplest way to put it. He typically moves the needle in a positive direction, and you see that with the plus-minus not just in these two games but throughout all of last year. We do want to make sure we’re using our depth so we’re not overplaying too many guys.
“Alex is just one of those guys that impacts both ends of the ball. He really, really impacts our defense and his versatility offensively, the ability to knock down 3s on the backside and also make plays off the bounce, be a good screener, be a crasher, be a roller in LeBron’s pick-and-rolls. They’re all ways he impacts the offensive end as well.”
While it might be frustrating to see Caruso get fewer than 20 minutes on average, Vogel has earned the trust of players that he’ll do the right thing when the games matter the most.
Caruso was a prime example of that last season when his minutes went from 18.4 per game during the regular season to 24.3 in the playoffs. It culminated with being inserted into the starting lineup for Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
LeBron praises Caruso for ‘championship basketball’
Vogel is not the only one who recognizes Caruso’s value to the Lakers. LeBron James also praised the fourth-year guard for his ability to make winning plays. “A.C. is whatever we need,” James said.
“A.C. is kind of a Swiss Army knife, to be honest. If you need scissors, a wine opener, a fingernail clipper, a knife, he’s all of that in one. He can do it all.
“He can bring the ball up and play the point, he can play off the ball, he’s shooting deadeye from 3 this year and he defends at a high level. And he doesn’t make many mistakes. You always can live with that. You can live with a guy on the floor like that.”
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