On Monday night, the Chicago Bulls moved to 7-3 with a significant statement win over the Brooklyn Nets. The Kevin Durant and James Harden Brooklyn Nets. You know, the ones that were tabbed as a preseason favorite to contend for a championship this season. DeMar DeRozan scored 28 points, Zach LaVine added 24 points, and four other Bulls (Ayo Dosunmu, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, and Javonte Green) scored in double-digits in the 118-95 win over Brooklyn at the United Center.
But, the unsung hero of the evening, and many evenings through Chicago’s first ten games, was Alex Caruso.
Caruso scored five points and logged five rebounds, two assists, and a pair of steals in 23 minutes.
On most nights, no, Caruso won’t stuff the stat sheet. He’s averaging 7.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game this season, and he’s never averaged more than 9.2 points per game — as he did during the 2018-19 season with the Los Angeles Lakers — but the 27-year-old guard’s impact can’t adequately be measured by the box score, alone.
When the Bulls were making their fourth-quarter run that would ultimately down the Nets on Monday night, Caruso was tabbed to guard James Harden, one of the greatest scorers of all-time, and Caruso played a feverish brand of defense that forced Harden into a fourth-quarter line of 0-for-2 from the field with zero points, zero assists, and a minus 18 +/-.
Take a look for yourself because the eye test accurately measures Caruso’s impact on a game.
Watch James Harden's first three possessions of the fourth quarter. Alex Caruso was hounding him from the inbound.
Harden's fourth quarter stats: 0-for-2, zero points, zero assists, minus-18. pic.twitter.com/uaiIGMzatN
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) November 9, 2021
The eye test has to be his advocate, and if you’re not watching him night in and night out, you can’t appreciate his value. Hell, some people who watched him night in and night out didn’t even understand his value.
One of my younger brothers, Marc, is a huge basketball fan, and while he loves the Bulls, he’s also spent years watching the Lakers. He always talked up Alex Caruso, who, to out-of-town basketball fans, was nothing more than an odd-looking guy who came off the bench for Los Angeles and didn’t do much on the stat sheet. Well, that assessment was a case ‘out of town stupid,’ on my part. But, it’s okay, we all do it.
But the Lakers, they don’t have the out-of-town stupid excuse to lean on. So they watched Caruso help them grind out wins — and an NBA Championship — off of their bench for five years, and they allowed him to walk this summer – and they took some serious heat for it. Caruso had become something of a cult hero in Los Angeles and within the Lakers fan base in five seasons, and they still allowed him to walk this summer.
The Lakers deemed Caruso’s talents worth less than a two-year, $15 million offer. However, Billy Donovan, Artūras Karnišovas, and Marc Eversley saw things differently, and they offered Caruso a four-year, $37 million deal. A deal that made many in Chicago scratch their head, admittedly. After landing Lonzo Ball in a sign and trade with New Orleans, and with DeMar DeRozan, a legitimate possibility (that would come to fruition shortly after the Caruso signing broke), the idea of giving a bench player $30 million in guaranteed money did not make a ton of sense. That is if you weren’t familiar with Caruso’s game.
Here’s what Caruso had to say about why he ultimately left Los Angeles on the latest episode of J.J. Reddick’s ‘The Old Man & The Three’ podcast:
“Essentially we got that offer [from the Bulls], went back to L.A., asked if they could do the same, they said ‘no.'” Caruso told Reddick and Tommy Alter. “[We] asked for something else that was a little less, they said ‘no.’ So I said ‘okay,’ if that’s what it comes to, I’m ready to go to Chicago and start the next chapter.”
Well, thanks, Los Angeles. The Lakers, and their fourth-highest payroll, gave Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington, Kendrick Nunn, Malik Monk, Rajon Rondo, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre Jordan, and Talen Horton-Tucker a combined $31.6 million for this season.
Through his first ten games with the Bulls, the out-of-town stupid that made us scratch our heads a bit this summer has completely faded, and Alex Caruso has become a fan favorite in Chicago already. Endearing himself to a city that prides itself on its grittiness and relentless work ethic, Alex Caruso has taken a rabid Bulls fan base by storm, even with stars and stat-sheet stuffers flanking him in every direction on this new-look Bulls team.
Caruso’s motor is always running hot, and he will play hard on every possession. Scoring is truly secondary to the gritty guard. Instead, he’s worried about making an impact on the defensive end of the court, where he’s constantly playing a physical brand of defense that’s often unseen in the modern-day NBA game. Caruso told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, “If I finish a game with no fouls, I probably didn’t play hard enough.”
Caruso’s dedication to defense has helped the Bulls turn into a team that can make stops down the stretch, especially when it matters. In the statement win over Brooklyn on Monday night, the Nets scored 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Last Monday, the Bulls held the Celtics to just 11 points in the fourth quarter, outscoring Boston 39-11 en route to a victory. Boston shot 5-of-15 in that fourth quarter. On the season, the Bulls have a league-best defensive rating of 95.6 in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls are fourth in the NBA with a 102.7 defensive rating this season. They also have the lowest turnover percentage in the NBA at 12.6 percent. They’re playing elite defense, and they’re taking care of the ball better than anyone in the league through the first ten games, a recipe for success that makes the Bulls legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference this season. Alex Caruso has been a critical cog in Billy Donovan’s second unit and has played a significant role in those numbers.
We could sit here and talk numbers all day, but wouldn’t that defeat the entire premise of the eye test being the accurate measure of Caruso’s impact? If you haven’t been watching yet, you’re just going to have to start tuning in. So go ahead, get yourself a ticket to the ‘Carushow,’ I promise you won’t want to stop watching.