One could point out the injuries sustained by the Chicago Bulls when discussing their late-season collapse. But there are at least some people who would point to another, less dismissable reason.
Bulls guard Alex Caruso was one of the players that lost time to injury, missing half the season with a variety of ailments.
The majority of those were with a freak wrist injury suffered on a hard fall.
But Caruso is letting “a little bit of bad luck” be an excuse and he doesn’t seem to accept that as an excuse for this team that went from first place in the Eastern Conference to just two games out of the Play-In Tournament.
Alex Caruso on Bulls’ Collapse
“I think in the beginning of the year, we were first in the East, we had a great Defensive Rating [and the] offense was doing everything they needed to do as far as moving the ball, creating open shots,” Caruso told Basketball News’ Ethan Fuller. “And then, through a little bit of adversity in the year, we dropped a little bit of discipline in certain areas of the game.”
Much has been made of Lonzo Ball’s continued injury concerns and how they sunk the Bulls last season.
But the Bulls held the top spot in the East more than a month after he went down.
They stumbled into the postseason to face the Milwaukee Bucks. But it was a foregone conclusion that they would be an easy matchup for the then-defending champs. And when they were able to steal a victory in Game 2, Caruso tried to prepare his team for what would happen next.
“I think that’s something that, if you’re trying to win — and win in the postseason — those are things that you got to be consistent at,” Caruso told Fuller.
The Bulls lost Games 3 and 4 before Caruso missed the decisive Game 5 with a concussion.
Caruso’s Most Important Ability
Fuller points out that the Bulls’ defense is predicated on Ball and Caruso’s ability to disrupt the opposing offense at the point of attack. They also offer the versatility to guard multiple positions making the Bulls’ lack of size less of an issue.
Without Ball, they figure to take a step back.
But having Caruso for more than 41 games – along with a healthy Patrick Williams – should go a long way in keeping the defense afloat.
“Caruso averaged a career-high 1.7 steals per game in his first year as a Bull,” says Fuller. “Had he played enough games, he likely would have warranted All-Defensive consideration. He deflected the ball 3.4 times per game in 2021-22, tied for fourth-most among all NBA players.”
None of that matters when Caruso is injured, though. And there has been some suggestion that the Bulls reduce his minutes to better optimize what he brings on both ends of the court. But Caruso is focusing on durability this summer and trying to keep the weight on this season.
“I’m already a slim guy as it is, so for me to be able to maintain weight through an 82-game-plus season, it’s something that I’ve really tried to hone in on and perfect for myself.”
Caruso is coming off of a career-high in minutes and has battled injuries his entire career.
Bulls’ Backup Plan
The Bulls have been planning for the possibility that Ball would have trouble getting back on the floor. That is widely believed to be the reason they went about drafting Dalen Terry with the 18th-overall pick and signed Goran Dragic in free agency.
But do not overlook second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu who Caruso says was “just playing off the feel” as a rookie.
“Your first year in the league, you don’t understand concepts really. You don’t understand coverages. You’re seeing guys play, and you’re playing against guys for the first time. You’re seeing their best moves for the first time; they’re probably going to beat you most of the time. So for him to be able to compete the way he did last year on defense is a great sign for a guy in his first year.”
Dosunmu could be the key to overcoming Ball’s absence or any potential loss of Caruso.
Despite the Bulls adding Dragic and retaining Coby White (for now), they lack another point of attack defender to get after opposing guards. Terry was drafted in part for his ability to do just that but is a 20-year-old rookie on what the Bulls hope is a playoff team.
The Cleveland Cavaliers adding Donovan Mitchell makes the East that much tougher and makes for an especially tough span for the Bulls with the news on Ball coming a day later.
Still, the Bulls have already been through that adversity. They got that invaluable experience and should be better – or at least better prepared – for it this time around. That is, for as long as their collective health permits.