The Chicago Bulls gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at a recent training camp practice in the Advocate Center. And while the full video isn’t anything to rave about (they aren’t about to share too much of their actual preparation), we did get this awesome nugget where Caruso gives everyone in the gym an important tip!
Check it out:
Caruso was part of the no. 1 defense in the league last year. Cool to see him imparting some of the stuff he learned. He's talking about X-outs here, which are crucial defensive rotations that depend on great communication. Screw it up and you're leaving someone wide open for 3.
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) October 15, 2021
As Steph Noh notes, Caruso is harping about the team’s defensive communication. Players are can be heard yelling all sorts of things as they try to rotate and close out, and while it’s nice to hear a vocal bunch, Caruso wants a more efficient bunch.
Not only does it appear like Caruso’s voice took over the room, but it sounds like head coach Billy Donovan made sure his teammates heard what the top defender had to say. And, according to Donovan, it sure sounds like this is a common occurrence.
“He’s always talking to our group about areas we got to get better in and things we have to improve on, in particularly those free-throw line block outs,” Donovan told reporters after Friday’s 118-105 preseason win over the Memphis Grizzlies. “He says, ‘we have got to show that tomorrow in practice,’ and I say, ‘believe me we are on it. But he’s always thinking about ways to help the group.”
Behind the scenes or mid-game, Caruso doesn’t hesitate to let himself be heard. In Friday’s battle with the Grizzlies, Noh caught another great example of Caruso helping his teammates get things right. The 27-year-old guard could be seen calling out the inbound play before the Grizzlies could even get the ball in. What did this do? Force a jump ball … which the 6’4″ Caruso won.
This is unbelievable basketball smarts by Alex Caruso. Calls out the exact out-of-bounds play before the Grizzlies move an inch, tells teammates what to do, then puts himself in the perfect spot to force a jump ball.
Also won the jump against a guy four inches taller than him. pic.twitter.com/29RFwcLrHE
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) October 16, 2021
These two instances say a whole lot about Caruso’s role behind the scenes and the respect he has already gained inside the locker room. But, hey, when we remember where this guy came from, his ability to quickly earn those things should come as no surprise.
Caruso went undrafted in 2016 out of Texas A&M. He was a four-year player who averaged 8.0 points, 4.7 assists, and 2.0 steals per game over his 137 career games. When he walked out of the university he held the program record in total steals, as well as an SEC All-Defensive Team honor. Both were impressive marks, but neither was enough to make him anything special in the NBA Draft process. After all, defense isn’t particularly flashy, especially when it comes from a 6’4″ guard with a receding hairline.
However, defense wins ballgames. And that is why it was almost impossible for an NBA franchise not to give Caruso a chance to test the waters. Caruso ended up signing with Oklahoma City Thunder’s G-League affiliate. He appeared in 50 games where – you guessed it – he led the G-League in steals and ranked 3rd in defensive rating among players who appeared in 40 games. The performance was enough for the Los Angeles Lakers to yank him away and give him a shot on their Summer League team before inking him to a two-way contract.
Over the next two seasons, Caruso would split time between the Lakers and the G-League where he would marinate inside a winning organization and continue to find success as a defensive hound. Then, before he knew it, Caruso was playing full-time alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He helped the team enter the playoffs with the third-best defensive rating, and he went on to average 24.3 minutes per game on his way toward a shiny ring.
Caruso’s place in the NBA was set after that. He played a role on the Lakers’ No. 1-ranked defense during the 2020-21 campaign before accepting a four-year, $37 million contract with the Chicago Bulls this summer. Every penny earned thanks to that defense.
So, yeah, I think it’s safe to say that when Alex Caruso talks about defense … you listen. And I’m glad to see that’s exactly what the Bulls did.
Anyway, if you want a complete look at the Bulls opening practice, make sure to check out the video below: