Alex Caruso ready to bring energy to the Bulls backcourt

The former Laker brings perimeter defending, three-point shooting, and toughness.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Alex Caruso doesn't generally make the opponent's scouting report in a traditional way, which is not surprising for someone who has averaged 5.9 points after four years in the NBA and after having once been released after Summer League, waived by another team and then playing parts of three seasons in the G-league.

But the opponents tend to know the new Bulls free agent reserve guard. Opponent's most likely identify him with a picture of an exterminator's truck.

Because Caruso's a pest. He sure is the kind of player who is going to bug you.

"Caring every possession, having that mindset of wanting to get a stop, having a pride that you don't want your guy to score and you're trying to win games. That's where it starts," says the 6-5 guard fond of headbands and who looks like he should be in the Sunday morning, 35-and-older games at the Y. "That's (defense) something that I think I can provide day in, day out, game in, game out. Something you can control is your effort and your energy and playing defense. And for me that's always been a catalyst for my game, whether it's been getting a run through steal and getting a dunk on the other end or taking a charge or getting a deflection. It provides energy to the team, provides energy for the game and usually is positive.

"Doing whatever your job is on each individual play and a lot of times for me the last couple of years it's been guarding really good players and a lot of times you have to play physical, play a little dirty to try to slow guys down because this league is filled with killers, filled with guys that are really good offensive players," Caruso explained about his playing philosophy. "I have a naive mindset where I always believe I am going to get the job done. That's kind of carried me. I lose a lot of times and failure is part of the process, but that mindset has helped me get to where I am today."

Which is with the contract of his life that broke the hearts of Lakers fans.

Sure, they've got LeBron and AD, but they really, really, really loved Caruso.

He was their Scalabrine with playing time, the Bald Mamba.

Alex Caruso's full introductory media call

Sure, not all that much playing time, about 20 minutes per game the last two seasons with eight starts and some DNPs mixed in. But he was in the starting lineup for the Lakers Game 6 championship clincher in 2020. And some of the biggest Twitter basketball outbursts in LakersLand the past few years involved counterintuitive Caruso displays of dunks, a follow over Kevin Durant, a driving one over Steven Adams, finishing a lob from Rondo, blocking a Lonzo Ball dunk attempt and a few possessions later stripping his dribble.

"I know a lot of people were upset that I didn't get to stick around and try and run it back for a couple of more years (with the Lakers)," Caruso said Friday afternoon during an introductory media Zoom conference. "It's the business of basketball. You can't always keep everybody you want or else there'd be a bunch of good teams with a whole bunch of good players and nobody else would win. I'm happy that I fell to Chicago, that the chips fell where they did. I'm excited for the team that we have and the future that this team has."

The marquee names for the Bulls this offseason were DeMar DeRozan and Ball. They'll likely start along with Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Patrick Williams.

The pugnacious Caruso will be a reserve on a team that has a lot of reserve guards, including Coby White, Tony Brown and Javonte Green.

Caruso is more audacious than deterred or discouraged. After all, what's a 27-year-old who never averaged double figures in four collegiate seasons at Texas A&M, where his father was associate athletic director and he was once a ball boy, doing with a long term NBA contract and the regrets of LeBron James for losing him to the Bulls.

"Playing with LeBron, that's something I'll never take for granted," says the 6-5 Caruso. "How easy he makes the game for his teammates. How much fun it was for me. I'm going to miss throwing him lobs. You can throw it up anywhere and he'll go dunk it. So hopefully me and Zach can get on that same page and I'll get some to him.

"There's guys that get a bunch of shots up. If I wanted to average double figures, I could," Caruso insists with little actual proof. "I could take a handful of shots a game and percentages would probably drop a little, probably wouldn't win as many games. For me, it's always just been about winning. Pouring into other people and pouring into the team usually reaps rewards for the teams and yourself individually. At each level I've been in, whether it's been Summer League, not making a team, training camp with OKC, cut from training camp and going the full year in the G-League to two-way to earning a contract, winning a championship, earning a longterm deal like. Just perseverance. I love basketball, I love winning, I love being a part of a team. So for me, it's pretty easy to wake up every day and work hard and enjoy what I'm doing."

Alex Caruso

Caruso adds perimeter defending, three-point shooting, and toughness to the Bulls backcourt.

It's the everyman ethos that has endeared Caruso to fans and teammates, though he's hardly just a pet. Yes, more of a pest.

Caruso is a good three-point shooter at 40 percent last season, though in his career he's averaged fewer than five field goals per game. He's actually a below average free throw shooter and doesn't have a great assists-to-turnover ratio. But the team plays better with him.

"Playing hard night in and night out, which is somewhat of a skill in the NBA because it's such a marathon of a season," explains Caruso.

He's preternaturally athletic and is fond of driving dunks. Bald guy, white headband. Really? His net rating measuring his time and effect on the floor has ranked among the best of the Lakers the last few seasons. He generally defends the toughest, highest scoring guards. And they generally don't like it. There's nothing timid about him.

So he'll get on the court for the Bulls, who with Caruso, Ball and Williams can put out stoppers for what seems like an offensive oriented team.

"The league itself has just gone to such small ball mentality that a lot of teams don't play true centers and a lot of times you need three or maybe even four guards out there depending on how big your guards are," Caruso noted. "So I'm sure that at some point in the season, they'll test it out. We've got plenty of young and veterans, plenty of talent on the team, from guys that were here last year like Coby and Zach. Now you've got me, DeMar (who often played small ball four for the Spurs last season), ‘Zo and then a couple others. That's something that I think in this league you can't have enough of is guard talent. So for me, I'm sure at some point you'll see a bunch of guards out there."

Including the most unlikely of them all who wasn't supposed to be here. Perhaps it's not the most magnanimous or eloquent description that Caruso is something of a basketball cockroach. Though I suspect he wouldn't mind.

"I had pride before I signed a multi-year deal for a bunch of millions of dollars," Caruso says. "I have pride every time I step on the court, whether I'm playing pickup or I'm in one-on-one drills in training camp; that's just who I am. I compete, I love to compete. It just makes the game more fun when you win."

This guy should help. The Lakers discovered that.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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