Once Avery Bradley opted out of the NBA reboot in Orlando, there was legitimate concern that the Los Angeles Lakers‘ perimeter defense could suffer because of it. However, that hasn’t been the case. Even when the team’s offense has struggled, the defense hasn’t faltered.
A lot of their success on defense has to do with the emergence of Alex Caruso as a tough defender. According to ESPN, Caruso is allowing the second-lowest field goal on All-Star players this year.
He’s only 0.1% behind Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo and is doing much better than defensive stars like Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert. Caruso isn’t the flashiest player and has become popular for the way he looks more so than how he plays. That said, it’s becoming clear that he’s actually a good player and is getting better on the defensive side of the ball.
Caruso Leading Lakers in Defensive Rating
Despite the fact that the Lakers have Defensive Player of the Year runner up Anthony Davis on the roster, Caruso is leading the team in defensive rating (90.2) during the playoffs. This led head coach Frank Vogel to say that Caruso was “exceptional” and leveled some high praise his way.
“We don’t win this series if [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Caruso] don’t play at the level that they played at on two of the best guards in the game in Dame and CJ. Even though they’re excelling on the defensive end, they’re making plays offensively as well,” Vogel said after eliminating the Blazers. “They were a huge part of this series victory.”
Caruso is never going to be a big-time scorer but if he can keep getting on defense, he’s going to have a long career.
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Rajon Rondo to Return Soon
Caruso has had a decent-sized role on the team since all season but he’s definitely seen his role expand with Bradley and Rajon Rondo being out. He’s more than proven that he’s deserving of the increased minutes but those minutes could change when the second round of the playoffs start on Friday. Rondo has missed time due to a couple of injuries but the Lakers are expecting him back very soon.
“We’re hoping to have him in uniform and in the rotation on Friday,” Vogel said on Rondo on Wednesday.
Rondo planning to return is a good sign for the Lakers. They need as much depth as possible if they’re going to make a deep playoff run. Plus, it also helps when one of your role players is known for their ability to hit a second gear in the postseason.
“Playoff Rondo” is a real thing and though the Lakers didn’t look like they needed him last series, he should come in handy against whichever teams Los Angeles ends up playing. Caruso will still have plenty to do but Rondo will likely be running the offense a lot when LeBron James is on the bench.
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