The Chicago Bulls have an underappreciated star on their hands.
“Alex Caruso is one of the rare players at his position…who can change the course of a game defensively,” wrote Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report on July 25. “The problem: He doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for it.”
Caruso, 29, earned All-Defense First Team honors this past season. It was his first season award so the court of public opinion is coming around as he lands the No. 1 spot on Hughes’ list.
Former undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, Caruso cut his teeth with the Los Angeles Lakers and even helped them win a championship in 2020. He signed a three-year, $36.9 million contract with the Bulls in the summer of 2021; a deal considered a bargain even before his All-Defense selection.
He is certainly valuable regardless of any other factors.
But he is even more so to a Bulls team that will be without starting point guard Lonzo Ball for a second consecutive season. That has some thinking that the Bulls should try to take advantage of the current value deal he’s on and sign him to a longer-term deal.
Caruso averaged 5.6 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.9 rebounds this past season. But he also posted the highest net efficiency differential on the team, per Cleaning The Glass.
“Caruso causes more trouble than most defenders—at any position,” Hughes continued. “ And yet if quizzed on the league’s best defenders, most fans would list 10 or 15 names before getting to Caruso’s.
“That needs to change.”
Bulls Held on to Alex Caruso for a Reason
If Caruso is undervalued at large, he certainly is not by the Bulls’ front office led by executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas who held a high valuation of him in the trade market despite plenty of interest. Caruso was said to be one of the “hardest” players to acquire because the Bulls were so staunch in their valuation.
And Bulls head coach Billy Donovan uses Caruso anywhere from point guard to power forward thanks to his defensive versatility. When he’s one like last season when he shot 36.4% from beyond the arc, he offers sufficient floor spacing for the Bulls’ big three.
The only player on this roster with championship credentials, he’s also developed into a vocal leader not afraid to identify the team’s biggest flaws.
“We had a little bit of an up and down year,” Caruso told Bill DiFilippo of Dime in May. “We beat some of the really good teams in the league and then dropped a couple contests to teams that you mark down as wins on the schedule when you’re looking at it. And I think that’s probably what just held us back a little was just a little inconsistency.”
Bulls Balanced Roster This Offseason
Karnisovas moved quickly to address the Bulls’ needs this offseason after seemingly letting multiple opportunities go since he put this core together ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. He added Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig in free agency, both of whom should ease the burden on Caruso in multiple areas from lead guard duties to perimeter defense and more.
That is key for Caruso whose 67 appearances (and 36 starts) this past season were a career-best in a single season and still came with time missed due to injury.
He will still be counted on heavily, though.