Analyst Makes Strong Case for Bulls to Name Surprising Starter

Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls

Getty Alex Caruso #6 of the Chicago Bulls directs players as he brings the ball up the court.

The Chicago Bulls have one lingering decision and one decision alone left unresolved. That is who will start in place of the injured Lonzo Ball who is expected to miss at least the early portion of the regular season.

Ball has been sidelined since January with knee soreness due to a bone bruise.

He has been rehabbing ever since having surgery but the bruise flares up every time he increases his intensity in workouts.

While they await his return, the Bulls need to fill his starting spot. It was a platoon effort last season once he went down with mixed results. While they have taken measures to better protect themselves against Ball’s absence, they might already have the answer to that problem and more in Alex Caruso.

Bulls Need Alex Caruso On the Floor

The Bulls only got 35 games out of Ball. But they also gut just 41 games out of Caruso who has already made his way back from a broken wrist to resume basketball activities. That’s good because, outside of Ball, Caruso was the only returning Bulls rotation player to rank above the 60th percentile in defensive efficiency differential, per Cleaning the Glass.

“Last season, the Chicago Bulls were plus-16.3 points per 100 possessions when Caruso, Ball, Zach LaVine, and DeMar DeRozan were all on the floor,” writes Andy Bailey for Bleacher Report. “Injuries limited the sample size to fewer than 500 total possessions, but it was clear that the defense and ball-moving tendencies of Ball and Caruso were the perfect complements to LaVine and DeRozan’s scoring-centric games.”

Bailey says that there is an argument to be made that the Bulls should start Caruso even when everyone is healthy.

That means someone has to come off of the floor and Bailey has an interesting choice.

“Chicago will surely want to see how 21-year-old Patrick Williams will look at the 4, but the aforementioned group with Nikola Vucevic is a card it may have to play at some point.”

While the data might not result in Caruso starting, there is an argument to be made that Williams and Caruso would both benefit from getting more time with the starters and reserves, respectively, next season.

Starting Caruso Could Unleash Williams

The logic behind starting Caruso is clear. Even without Ball on the floor, they had a plus-2.7 net rating. Caruso provides some much-needed leadership and grit for an offensively oriented starting unit.

There has been a push for second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu to take over the starting role with Ball out.

But he had the worst efficiency differential of all returning players from last season.

Dosunmu should be better in his second year. But a playoff team like the Bulls could lean on Goran Dragic’s 14 years of experience. The problem with that is Dragic is 36 years old and already talking of body soreness after six games plus qualifiers and exhibitions for Slovenia this summer.

Williams needs to be set free. If he is going to remain hesitant to be the fourth scoring option with the starters, the Bulls could unleash him as the featured piece of the bench.

Caruso’s Health a Major Factor

In addition to the wrist, Caruso also battled through back and hamstring issues last season. He, like Ball, has only appeared in more than 60 games once in his five-year career. He has been working this offseason to improve his durability.

Still, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley explained Caruso is best seeing around 27 minutes.

If – and likely only if – the Bulls and head coach Billy Donovan see early on that Williams is still reluctant to give the Bulls what they need offensively when playing with the starters, they could either bring him off of the bench or send him there early in favor of Caruso.

As it stands, they were plus-5.3 with both Caruso and Williams on the floor last year. That is as good of an argument as any to start him over any of the other options at guard until Ball returns.

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Michael Cunnningham
Michael Cunnningham
1 year ago

Alex Caruso is better in a limited role as an All-NBA defender. Coby White should start @ PG if Lonzo is unavailable. Coby provides a 3rd scoring option as a catch-n-shoot 3 pt threat and his floor spacing will open up lanes for Patrick Williams, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to take advantage of. Coby’s not a bad playmaker either.