With Dennis Schroder out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, head coach Frank Vogel has had to turn to Alex Caruso as his starting point guard, and he has more than delivered.
Caruso is not a natural point guard and is at his best when he is asked to fill in the gaps around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but he has shown improvements in all aspects as a lead guard since being inserted into the starting lineup.
In the Lakers’ win over the Phoenix Suns, Caruso poured in 17 points to go along with eight assists in 32 minutes. While the newfound aggression on the offensive end and the ability to distribute is encouraging to see, Caruso’s calling card will always be defense and Vogel noted that his efforts should lead to league-wide recognition.
“Alex Caruso has stepped up big time in these last two games. He really has,” Vogel said after the win over the Suns. “With all the talk about Anthony [Davis] in these last two games with high scoring totals, Alex has had his two-highest scoring totals of the season in these last two games as well. 18 and 17 points, and to do it without skipping a beat on the defensive end where he is an elite defender and I think he has to be considered for All-Defensive Team.
“The way he does everything down that side of the ball, so to see him dominate on the defensive end and take control of our offense and play on both sides just proves his value to us. He’s a big reason why we won a championship last year and he’s going to be huge for us in the playoffs this year.”
As far as the All-Defensive Team comment goes, Vogel does have a point. The Lakers have had the best defensive rating as a team all season, and Caruso is chief among them, holding the third-best defensive rating in the NBA behind only Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley.
Caruso later acknowledged Vogel’s comments and appreciated that his coach vouched for him.
“I’m always appreciative of Coach [Vogel] hyping me up a little and my teammates giving me credit, stuff like that,” Caruso said. “That makes me feel good just because they know the work that I put in, they know how much I want to succeed, the standards I hold myself to. For me, my growth on that end of the court has been fun to watch just because that’s kind of how I made it in the league. That’s when Luke [Walton] would throw me in games for eight-minute, six-minute spurts when I was on a two-way when I first got here and that was my job to go out and play great defense on somebody, make somebody frustrated.
“So for me, that’s been something that I’ve always felt really comfortable with, something that’s always been in my control, something that on any given night, you can show up and play defense and play hard. So for me that’s just kind of come naturally.”
Even in extended minutes, Caruso was able to keep up his normal brand of high effort and intensity on the defensive end. He racked up three steals in the win, but more importantly, was able to toggle between the Suns’ potent backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. It was also telling that Vogel entrusted Caruso to check Cameron Payne when the Phoenix guard was torching Los Angeles on the offensive end.
When Schroder does eventually return, Caruso will be relegated back to the bench but he has shown that he is more than capable of filling in when his name is called. The guard will be a key cog in the Lakers’ title defense when the playoffs officially begin.
Caruso feels increased offensive role has gone well
As previously mentioned, Caruso has also been playing some of the best offensive basketball of his career as he gets tasked with more point guard duties. He feels the increased role on that end has worked out well to this point.
“I don’t know, it seems like it’s gone pretty well,” Caruso said. “I don’t know what y’all have been seeing but from my end it looks like it’s been going pretty well. Obviously I’m a bit of a perfectionist so there’s a couple players here and there, especially in the Portland game, that I wish I could do over and do better. But every time I’ve gotten an opportunity in my career I’ve kinda rose to the occasion and there’s something in me, just that competitive spirit, that desire to be great, the desire to do everything right that just kind of, like I said, rises to the occasion.
“Given the opportunity, I know what Coach [Vogel] expects, I know the stuff we like to run, I know how our players like to play so for me, it’s really not that hard to kind of just slip in there and do what I do. I think the other part we’ve talked about that’s not as natural, not my strong suit compared to the rest of my game is just attacking offensively and I think I’ve been doing a good job of picking and choosing my spots of when to be aggressive and I think that’s been good for our team these last couple games.”
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