The Chicago Bulls are a better team when Alex Caruso plays. That much is evidenced by their plus-5.6 net rating with him on the floor, per Cleaning The Glass. They have a winning record without him this past season at 22-19.
But they were still better with him, going 24-17 in his half-season worth of availability.
Injuries took their toll, knocking him out of the other 41 games – first with a sprained foot (13 games) and later with a broken wrist (22 games) courtesy of this now locally-infamous play.
He also dealt with back issues that cost him the final three games of the regular season and suffered a concussion in Game 4 of the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks before missing Game 5. Caruso is taking preventative measures this offseason but the Bulls are being urged to be proactive as well.
On the Ball
A lot of the conversation around the Bulls this summer has been about starting point guard Lonzo Ball who has been slow to recover from a bone bruise. But, like Ball, Caruso has only once surpassed 60 appearances in a regular season.
He did make 58 appearances in 2021.
But Caruso has only been available for 41 or fewer games played in each of his other three seasons.
“The Bulls need Caruso to be disruptive and play a hard-nosed style, especially because they have so many high-priced players who don’t necessarily do so all the time,” Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun Times wrote on August 27. “But they also need him to stay healthy and active in the rotation.”
Aside from the Bulls’ net rating and record with him, Caruso’s efficiency differential was third-best on the team last year and ranked in the 90th percentile.
He was also one of their few capable on-ball defenders ranking in the 92nd percentile in positional difficulty and the 85th percentile in defensive versatility among all players, per Basketball Index.
That’s why Cowley thinks the Bulls should cut his minutes.
“When Caruso was healthy and playing, he averaged 27.5 minutes in games the Bulls won and 28.6 minutes in those they lost. It was like that with the Lakers during the 2020-21 and 2019-20 seasons, too…Caruso is a high-energy player on both ends of the floor and plays with a fiery edge. But that fire only burns so long.”
As Cowley points out, even if the Bulls wanted it, the 28-year-old Caruso likely has no interest in load management.
Keeping AC Fresh
Caruso has been working to strengthen his lower body and back. But he was already fifth on the team in minutes despite coming off of the bench for 23 of his appearances. It takes a lot to play as he does for extended periods.
He told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson that he had been in the gym since June working on his game.
But former Bulls big man and Stacey King shared a different story of his insane endurance.
“Terry is a high-energy defender who doesn’t mind playing the role of irritant. He is expected to earn a spot in the rotation, and maybe three or four of his minutes will come at the expense of Caruso’s playing time.”
Terry has been called “NBA ready” by one rival executive. But asking him to bring what Caruso does on a nightly basis is a tall task even for vets.
Lakers Nation Never Forgets (or Forgives)
Caruso’s Lakers stint produced tremendous results in the form of a championship. He also formed lasting bonds with his teammates and the fans the latter of which still have a hard time reconciling with their decision to let him walk last summer.
Not even when they add a proven commodity like Patrick Beverley whom the Lakers recently traded for.
He was not the only Bulls player that was “supposed” to be in purple and gold last season, either. DeMar DeRozan has spoken of thinking that he would be a Laker last season too. Both decisions may have proven to be missteps for L.A. But they have certainly worked out in the Bulls’ favor.