He is arguably one of the NBA’s most ‘memeable’ players, if not the most. Among those memes, a photoshopped image of him looking stacked in the gym, having seemingly added on pounds of muscle in the off-season went viral months ago. The very next day, this resulted in him being drug tested by league officials. It’s Los Angeles Lakers guard, Alex Caruso.
Rewinding back to the very beginning, Caruso has taken the long path to secure his NBA future for the remainder of this season and the next. Having signed a 2-year, $5.5 million contract this past summer.
He went through education at local institutions, starting with A&M Consolidated High School, then with Texas A&M University. With the latter, he averaged 8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2 steals, over 137 games, for the Aggies.
This wasn’t enough for the 6-foot-4 point guard to be drafted. Instead, following a spell with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Summer League team and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s training camp, his route detoured to the, then, NBA D-League.
He started his D-League career with the Oklahoma City Blue, where he averaged 11.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.1 steals, in the 2016/17 season. This resulted in Caruso being called up to the Lakers’ 2017 Summer League team. This is where he grabbed his opportunity with both hands, and earned a 2-way contract with the NBA outfit.
The 2017/18 season was a tough one for Caruso. Whilst he flourished in the newly renamed G-League, he was struggling on NBA courts. Featuring 36 times for the Lakers, he averaged just 3.6 points per game. It appeared, however, that his G-League heroics earnt him another shot with the Lakers. He went onto sign another 2-way deal for the 2018/19 campaign. This is where everything changed.
The purple and gold suffered numerous injuries as the season progressed, and Alex Caruso was given his opportunity yet again. And he took it. He impressed with a team-high +4.8 in plus/minus in the last 13 games of the season. This beat LeBron James, at the time, in the category.
Additionally, he broke the 15-point barrier on 6 occasions. Among those a 32-point outing against the Los Angeles Clippers late in the season. He shot at a 44.5% clip from the field, and at an eye-catching 48% rate from deep. Such performances earned Caruso a permanent 2-year contract with the newly constructed Lakers superteam, alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Going into the 2019/20 campaign, many didn’t see how Caruso could fit into the Lakers’ rotation. A roster that was overloaded with guards, such as Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Troy Daniels. However, he has fought his way in, and deservedly so.
He may only be averaging 5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2 assists, on 42.4% shooting, early on in the season. But you have to look beyond that.
Impact on the Court
When he’s on the court he is active on defense and locked into every single defensive possession, on-and-off the ball. His basketball IQ is through the roof. He does the dirty work, fighting through crushing screens. He is also quick with his hands forcing opponent errors, turnovers, and snatching steals. In fact, he sits 4th on the Lakers roster in steals per game, with 1.1.
Alex Caruso puts his body on the line, to draw charges and earn the Lakers extra possessions out of nothing. He is holding opponents that he guards to 44.4% shooting from the field, and 35.8% from 3-point land. This may not be eye-catching statistics, as the league average for field goal percentage is 45% and for 3-pointers is 35%, but it is the team impact that draws attention.
When the 25-year-old is on the court for the Lakers, the opponent’s defensive rating, as a team, plummets down to 96.9. This shows his contributions to the team and rounds-up his passion and work ethic on the defensive end. He never moans about minutes, he goes out on the court and gets to work. His efforts may not directly impact his own statline, but they for sure impact the team as a whole.
He does sit 5th on the Lakers in total plus/minus on the season, so far. In front of him, LeBron James, Danny Green, Anthony Davis, and Dwight Howard. This is representative of Caruso’s consistency and production early on in the campaign.
Beyond the Statistics
Additionally, his tendency to slam down highlight-worthy dunks really does energise the Lakers on the offensive end. This has been huge to their fast start to the season, and 3rd/4th quarter comebacks, which sees the team currently sitting atop of the Western Conference for the first time in, forever.
Many NBA fans love to mock Alex Caruso and find his basic box score stats amusing. But look beyond that, watch a Lakers game. His impact is vital to the success of the team moving forward. He is in some ways the perfect role player, and every successful team needs locked-in, side-before-self, role players, don’t they?
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