While it’s still early on in the 2020-21 season, it appears Alex Caruso has found another level to his game. His numbers are up almost across the board, scoring more points on better percentages and getting more rebounds and assists.
One of the few stats that hasn’t improved for Caruso this season is his minutes. While he played 18.4 minutes per game in Frank Vogel’s rotation last season, he’s down to 17.8 this year.
Not only are Caruso’s traditional stats up despite getting fewer minutes, his advanced metrics are off the charts as well. Among players who have shared the court with Caruso for at least 10 minutes this season, all but two — Kyle Kuzma and Wesley Matthews — have a net rating of over 11.3.
Vogel, when asked why Caruso’s minutes are going down even when his quality of play is improving, said that it’s an intentional decision. “Alex is someone we obviously trust and knows our system. We want to be able to preserve him,” Vogel explained.
“He plays so hard, so I am cognizant of not overdoing his minutes and getting him banged up and putting him in a vulnerable position. We’re trying to be intelligent with that while also working in a lot of talented guys.
“Our depth is something that affords us the luxury to make sure we’re not overdoing certain guys’ minutes.”
This is somewhat understandable in terms of unleashing Caruso in the playoffs. This is the exact same approach L.A. took last season and it paid off in huge ways. During the Playoffs, his minutes shot up from 18.4 to 24.3.
Caruso memorably was inserted into the starting lineup for what wound up being a clinching victory in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Vogel and the Lakers coaching staff have undoubtedly earned the trust of fans, but it’s still questionable why they feel they would need to preserve a 26-year-old in his fourth season who has never had a recurring injury problem.
Perhaps they feel he’s better in shorter bursts during the regular season, but when the time comes and the minutes start to matter the most, Caruso has proven he needs to be on the court.
Anthony Davis praises Kuzma, Caruso for making winning plays
Caruso’s innate ability to make smart basketball plays has begun rubbing off on Kyle Kuzma, who struggled with his basketball IQ for the first couple seasons of his career. Lakers star Anthony Davis praised the two for their hustle and for the way they make winning plays.
“That’s what Kuz does, he crashes the glass all the time. I think he got three on one possession and kicked it out to A.C. for a 3. And A.C. pressuring the ball, Collin drives to the basket and he gets a strip late in the game,” he said.
“All those plays are huge plays and momentum boosters for us. Especially when you’re kind of going back and forth with a team and were stagnant on 100 for a while. We didn’t score but our defense kind of kept us ahead, and those big offensive rebounds by Kuz. Two guys who don’t get highlighted enough but they do all the dirty work for us, for sure.”
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