Coming off an epic finish to his 2018-19 season and rewarded with a two-year $5.5 million contract, Alex Caruso is looking to prove that he belongs in the Lakers’ lineup and rotation. Though unlikely to crack the starting lineup anytime soon given Avery Bradley‘s defensive dominance, Caruso has proven himself to be a big contributor off the bench through the first five games of the season.
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Alex Caruso Making a Case for More minutes & a Bigger Role in the Lakers’ Lineup
Despite a slow start offensively to the season, Caruso has been able to contribute consistently positive minutes on the back of his strong defensive play. Standing 6’5″ with unassuming high-level athleticism, Caruso is a problem for guards out on the perimeter. Frank Vogel has repeated praised Caruso and his defensive chops so far, going as far as to call him “special” on defense.
Even though minutes will only continue getting tougher to come by as Kyle Kuzma gets further re-integrated into the lineup, Caruso is proving that not only does he deserve to keep his role but that it may be beneficial to expand it.
While Caruso’s assist numbers are down considerably, he is playing a different role this season and hasn’t necessarily been tasked to be the primary offensive facilitator when on the court. Instead, Caruso’s role is more to function as a scoring threat off the ball capable of knocking down open looks and getting after opposing players on defense – things he typically excels at. Caruso has always been a solid three-point shooter so his shot will inevitably start falling more consistently. When it does, it might be hard to pass up giving Caruso an even larger role in the Laker rotation.
Dwight Howard Continues Strong Play From the Bench
One of Caruso’s bench-mates, Dwight Howard, has been having an impressive season in his own right. Widely written off after being dumped by the Wizards and later cut by the Grizzlies in the same summer, Howard has proven to be an extremely valuable contributor for the Lakers so far. Signed to a non-guaranteed veteran minimum contract, Howard offers the Lakers little to no risk should things go south – though from the looks of things that won’t be the case.
Despite playing off the bench and seeing just a shave over 20 minutes per game, Howard is second in the NBA in blocks per game while being a monster in the plus/minus category with a staggering +65 rating through five games. Proving to be a force protecting the rim and defending, Howard has made some noticeable improvements to his pick and roll defense in particular. Once content to utilize his athleticism to recover and pick up impressive blocks, Howard now seems much more locked in and aware on the defensive end. Making smart reads in pick and roll sets and proving capable of sticking with quicker guards on the perimeter, Howard has been a versatile threat on the defensive end so far.
Both Howard and Caruso have been a big part of the Laker bench providing any sort of production. The return of Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo should help things get back on track. While the Clippers took the mantle of Western Conference favorites on opening night, that changes dramatically if the Lakers bench can prove to provide consistent production throughout the season.