It has only been a month into the NBA season, but it has become clear in that timeframe that, for one thing, the Bulls really like having guard Alex Caruso on board. And for another thing, it’s clear the Lakers have missed him in his absence.
Caruso has made an impact on a much-improved Bulls defense, one that made a leap from last year, when Chicago ranked 12th with a 111.5 points per 100 possessions defensive rating, to this year, with their rating at 103.4, fifth in the NBA.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are 12th in defensive rating, down considerably from last year—when L.A. ranked first in the NBA.
That’s not all a factor of Caruso, of course. But the Bulls are fifth in deflections, at 16.6 per game, while the Lakers are 11th at 15.0. Last season, Chicago was 26th in deflections. Individually, Caruso is tied for first in the NBA in that category, with 4.4 per game, and third in steals, at 2.5 per game.
Funny thing is, as Caruso heads back to Los Angeles for a game against the Lakers, where he spent the first four seasons of his career, he says he has to credit two very prominent Lakers for paving his way toward those defensive numbers.
Caruso Credits Rajon Rondo, LeBron James for Developing D
Speaking on ex-NBA star J.J. Redick’s podcast, The Old Man and the Three, Caruso discussed the development of his defensive instincts, honed in Los Angeles over recent years.
“It’s the difference between thinking and knowing,” Caruso said. “If you have to think about what’s going on, you’re going to be a half-second slow. If you already know what to do, that extra 0.7 seconds, I’m already stepping one way or I’m already rotating one way. Part of that I’ll credit to Rondo and LeBron, man. They’re just so smart.”
James joined the Lakers after Caruso’s rookie season, so Caruso played three years with him. Rondo joined the Lakers at the same time, but signed with Atlanta before the 2019-20 season and was subsequently traded to the Clippers. He signed back with Lakers this year.
“Seeing them operate for a couple of years, and seeing how they would communicate and think and point and tell people where to go before stuff happened,” Caruso said. “I tried to take a little bit of that with me. And obviously I think I am going to get better at it the more I am away from them, and I am going to put pressure on myself to be good at it. But it’s that thing of, they know what’s going on. It’s like chess. They’re two moves ahead.”
Caruso Wanted to Re-Sign With the Lakers
Caruso left the Lakers in free agency last summer when he signed a deal with the Bulls, for four years and $37 million. He told Redick that he gave the Lakers the chance to match the offer, and even told L.A. he would give a discount to stay with the purple-and-gold. He did not sound bitter, but he did indicate that the Lakers lowballed him.
“Essentially we got that offer, went back to L.A., asked if they could do the same, they said ‘No,’” Caruso said. “Asked for something else that was a little less, they said, ‘No.’ So, I said ‘OK, if that’s what it comes to, I’m ready to go to Chicago and start the next chapter.’ It’s been great. I think it’s been a great decision for me.”
Redick had a guess as to what the Lakers’ best offer was, and he asked Caruso to blink once if the offer was for less than two years and $15 million. Caruso only blinked once, indicating that the Lakers never were really committed to keeping him, long-term.