Over the last couple of seasons, Alex Caruso has quickly become one of the most popular players on the entire Los Angeles Lakers roster.
After graduating from a two-way to a standard NBA contract this summer, Caruso has remained one of the more important pieces to the Lakers rotation.
His numbers don’t stand out on a box score, but there have been countless games in which Caruso has sparked the Lakers when he enters a game. One example came in the team’s recent win over the New Orleans Pelicans when Caruso took just one shot, but was a team-high +23 and was on the floor to close out the game.
The main reason for this is Caruso’s defense and head coach Frank Vogel had extremely high praise for his work on that end of the floor, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers:
“Caruso is a star defender. I think he’s elite. When you study him on tape or just watch him in summer workouts, you see he has pretty good feet and good length. But there are a lot of 6’5″ defenders that you think should be great defenders cause they’re long, but they’re not good defenders. But Alex is. He has great instincts and that’s the biggest thing with him.”
Vogel makes an excellent point about physical traits not always translating to great defense. Lakers fans will surely remember Wesley Johnson, who had every physical trait necessary to be a lockdown defender, but could never figure it out.
Caruso does all of the little things and his high IQ combined with his athletic gifts allows him to make a difference.
“It’s not always just about physical ability, it’s about IQ. It’s about activity, hands, containment ability, willingness to take chargers, the ability to mix it up and get on the boards and rebound the basketball. He does all of those things at a very high level.”
There were questions about whether Caruso was simply a flash in the pan, but he has proven that to not be the case. His minutes fluctuate, but he is already ready anytime he steps on the floor and more often than not has impacted the game. Obviously the +/- stat isn’t without its flaws, but it says a lot that Caruso ranks fifth on the team — behind just LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Avery Bradley, and Danny Green.
Vogel is a defensive-minded head coach who demands effort on that end of the floor. Caruso has given him that and it has stood out to the coaching staff and his teammates and that impact will likely keep him in the rotation throughout the 2019-20 NBA season.