Los Angeles Lakers point guard Alex Caruso may not have been selected in the NBA Draft but he used the Las Vegas Summer League and G League to springboard into the NBA anyway.
Caruso performed well enough with the Oklahoma City Blue in 2016-17 that the Lakers decided to add him to their team last July for Summer League. With the spotlight squarely on Lonzo Ball, Caruso managed to dazzle fans with his slick passing and ability to make big plays.
He had a memorable duel with former fifth overall pick De’Aaron Fox, and performed so well that the Lakers decided to make him their first-ever two-way player.
Two-way contracts were added to the NBA to allow teams to designate a pair of players that would move freely between the parent club and the G League, allowing them to get more top-level experience while still developing their game at the lower level.
After spending the season with the Lakers and South Bay Lakers, Caruso praised the G League and two-way contract for helping him develop as a player during his exit interview. “The game experience is the most useful and impactful way you can improve your game,” Caruso explained.
“Playing in an actual NBA game is the only way you get used to playing at that speed and with those type of movements and just how the game is. It’s different than the G League. It’s a little faster, guys are a little bigger, you have traditional positions. Once you’re down with the G League, I have a chance to implement different things in my game.
“Trying to be more of a scorer, trying to have a more aggressive mindset. The G League gives me an opportunity to practice those things while also getting experience in an actual NBA gameplay. For me it helped to balance the two and intertwine them.”
It’s not an easy situation for a player to be in, bouncing from the bright lights of the NBA down to the G League and back again, but Caruso never felt frustrated whenever he was sent down to the South Bay Lakers.
“Honestly, it wasn’t just because coming into the year, I think the minimum I had was 15 days. I ended up going 45 plus a couple at the end. For me, there’s no real frustration,” he said.
“If anything I’m grateful for how much I got to be up with the Lakers. And my time with South Bay was a great opportunity for me to hang out with a great group of guys and form relationships as well as work on my game. Just get the extra time I needed to put in the extra work.”
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with their team’s parent club when their G League team is in season. Since the South Bay’s season ended before the Lakers’ season did, that allowed Caruso to go over the 45 game limit.
He even started the final seven games of the season thanks to injuries to Ball and Brandon Ingram. While it was something of a whirlwind, Caruso saw his 2017-18 season as a step forward in his career. “I think it was positive,” he said.
“Any time you go from playing in the G League a full year, I was a two-way, and I think I’m making strides to be a full-time NBA player, I think it was positive.”
Now, with his first year as a two-way player over, Caruso will get back to work on improving his game, though there are no guarantees which team he will be playing for next season. “I know there’s going to be a lot of work and time in the gym. I’ll be here a lot, just getting after it, trying to improve my body and sharpen my game up to play in the NBA game again,” he said.
“I want to strengthen my body enough to be able to withstand blows and take hits and play at full speed for 48 minutes or however long I’m in. And just being ready to be crisp so I can make the right decisions whenever I’m in a ball screen, whether I’m cutting off ball or taking shots. Just being ready to play.”
With the Lakers determined to chase top-flight talent in free agency this summer the team dynamic could change quickly and it’s anyone’s guess what that will mean for Caruso.
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