In this day and age, where it’s commonplace for Caruso’s
positional peers to be 20-point-per-game threats on a nightly
basis, the 6-foot-5 Aggies alum found the NBA pipeline the long and
We — the societal we — haven’t figured out how to measure
defense through analytics in a way that unquestionably captures
one’s effectiveness, especially regarding guards. We’re in a better
place today than when Caruso was in college, but we still struggle
to do so. This is why watching basketball is essential. (And sure,
the eyes can sometimes lie depending on the beholder too.)
But when he balled at A&M between 2012 and 2016 as a
four-year starter, he was never a go-to offensive option. Caruso
was a two-time All-SEC defender and an astute floor general with a
suspect hairline (it's coming for us all, man), coach-like
leadership and the classic “sneaky athleticism” tag we bestow on
our tall, white homies
Caruso averaged 8.0 points, 4.7 assists, and 2.0 steals during
his time at College Station, sporting .455/.340/.685 shooting
splits and a Defensive Rating of 93.4 with 8.6 Defensive Win Shares
and a 6.1 Defensive Box Plus-Minus.
Offensively, as a senior, Caruso was the fourth option on a
Sweet-16-bound Aggies team (once ranked No. 5 in the country),
behind future NBA talents like Danuel House Jr., Jalen Jones and
(And yet, he helped engineer one of the nuttiest March Madness
comebacks you’ll ever see.)
Caruso went undrafted and was one of the 64 college seniors to
participate in the 2016 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which
also hosted Bryn Forbes, Dorian Finney-Smith and Abdel Nader among
others. An entire season passed before Caruso could make his NBA
debut in the 2017-18 campaign, and it wasn’t until 2019-20 that he
established himself as an NBA rotation guy for a full run.
Caruso played 106 G League games between 2016 and 2019, which
included All-G-League Second Team and All-G-League Defensive
So, in the Chicago Bulls' 114-110 win over the Milwaukee Bucks
in Game 2, it served as no surprise that Caruso was instrumental in
a much-needed victory. The win evened the series at one game
apiece, taking advantage of a night where Khris Middleton sprained
his MCL and Bobby Portis left with an eye abrasion (hold your
jokes). Even still, the Bucks fought back despite being down
double-figures for the bulk of the second half, and, without
Caruso, this would be a 2-0 series in favor of Milwaukee.
The Bulls led 87-80 heading into the fourth, and if you pull up
a box score, you’ll see that Caruso finished shooting 1 of 3 (all
threes) with 2 assists and 2 rebounds in over 10 minutes of play in
the final period.
If you look at his 38-minute stat line for the night, Caruso had
9 points, 10 assists, 2 steals, 2 boards and 2 blocks, while
shooting 3 of 7 from deep (3 of 8 overall). His plus-minus? A
game-high plus-16. Like all other metrics, it's an imperfect
measurement, but in this instance, it made total sense if you
The dude isn’t an All-Star, isn’t flashy and doesn’t produce
gaudy numbers — which causes people to easily overlook certain
players in this age of highlights, fantasy, gambling and
"hoooooperzzz!" — but Caruso is a straight dawg who makes
Let’s focus on some.
0:24 — It's a two-man defense with Patrick
Williams against Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo orchestrating
a screen-and-roll. Caruso pests Middleton until sending him over
for the switch and cuts off the errant pass despite being knocked
off balance due to the screen. It’s a break and easy two the other
way. This is like when, in football, you — a defensive back — lose
sight of the ball on a go-route and just throw your hands up, so
the receiver needs to work extra hard to secure the catch. It
doesn’t always work, but for Caruso, this time, it did. Activity,
1:17 — Caruso is matched up with Jrue Holiday
at around 16 feet out, near the right wing. Holiday tries to face
up, and as he does, he’s attempting to read the floor and eye the
rim while contemplating his move. Caruso’s in the dude’s grill the
whole time and shoves his right palm as close to Holiday’s face as
possible without drawing contact, but keeps his left hand active
and swipes once Holiday allows an opening for the ball to be
stolen. Caruso never stopped being attentive, and wasn’t even
trying to steal the ball the entire time; he just capitalized on an
opening as a smart perimeter defender would.
1:59 — You just love this. Caruso takes the
challenge of a taller, bigger Middleton, who tries to impose his
will on an attack. Caruso gets backed down, but — and this is the
key — is not watching the ball. (I could totally rant
right now about how too many players are watching the ball or their
opponents eyes on defense, and how it's is an easy way to
constantly lose someone due to being easily susceptable to fakes.
But I won’t get into why keeping your eyes on someone’s chest/waste
is better. Not today!) Anyway, Caruso perfectly times Middleton’s
spin and cleanly strips the ball loose. Some coaches might say
you’re better off swiping up than down to lessen your chances of
fouling, but it worked here. He even finished the play once
Middleton recovered and forced the pass.
2:31 — Look at this help block on Brook Lopez.
Need I say more?
3:04 — And finally, we have the game-sealing
play. The Bulls are up 114-109 with 10 seconds left, and the Bucks
are desperate. Caruso tries to better position himself to
outrebound Giannis, but doesn’t — understandably. Still, as Giannis
grabs the offensive board, Caruso holds the matchup and immediately
tries smothering him. Giannis makes the mistake of pushing his
arms/elbows forward, and Caruso drops down to smartly draw the
charge, knowing he wouldn’t get the block and would risk fouling if
he went for the steal. Game over.
There’s a reason why Los Angeles Laker fans probably miss Caruso
horribly right now. Watching him help lead the Bulls in a road win
over the defending champs, while their team presumably is doing the
same, can't be easy.
You need winning plays in winning time, and Alex Caruso gives
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