After Playing Only Half the Season, Durability Sounds Like a Priority for Alex Caruso

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After Playing Only Half the Season, Durability Sounds Like a Priority for Alex Caruso

Chicago Bulls

When we talk about last season’s injury trouble, two things knees come to mind.

Both Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball came away from the Golden State Warriors game on Jan. 14 with significant injury trouble. Ball didn’t end up taking the floor for the remainder of the season, and his return timeline remains up in the air to this day. Meanwhile, LaVine missed the following five games before playing the remainder of the season on a knee that would eventually require surgery in the offseason. I think it’s fair to say there is no question both situations played a role in the team’s dramatic plummet to the No. 6 seed.

Having said that, Alex Caruso’s struggle to stay on the court may have proven equally as detrimental. It’s easy to forget that the Bulls’ sneaky free-agent signing played only six more games than Ball. First, it was a foot injury that sidelined him for 13-straight games from mid-December to mid-January. He then returned for just one full game against the Cleveland Cavaliers before Grayson Allen decided to make one of the dirtiest plays of the season.

The ensuing wrist injury forced him off the floor until March 12. He was able to play 17 more games (which included the playoffs) but saw his season end on a concussion suffered in Game 4 of the Bulls’ first-round series. As unfortunate as that was, it felt like a fitting end to his first year in Chicago.

I don’t need to tell you how important Caruso’s elite defense is to what the Bulls want to do. He blows up the point of attack, jumps passing lanes, forces offensive fouls, and picks pockets at one of the league’s best rates. For a team that thrives when getting in transition and attacking downhill, his ability to single-handedly force stops is borderline invaluable. And he knows it.

“I talked them about some of the goals I have,” Caruso said at his end-of-season press conference. “Physically being able to play as many games as I can  next year. And, obviously, broken wrist, concussion, those things are kind of out of my control. Little nagging muscle injuries, take care of that to make sure that I can be out there for my team and for us to be able have all our guys out there to build the habits we need to.”

To be clear, no one can particularly blame Caruso for the minimal action he saw last season. The wrist injury, in particular, was something completely out of his control. But it also seems noteworthy that in the season where he averaged the most minutes of his career, he played his fewest games since bursting onto the scene in 2018-19.

Indeed, Caruso appeared in 64 contests during his championship season with the Lakers and 58 games the year after that. However, he averaged no more than 21.0 minutes per game, which is surely a good amount less than the 28.0 minutes he saw last year in Chicago.

When we combine this increased role with how aggressive and physical Caruso likes to play, it’s not shocking that he had a hard time staying available. His mind nor body was fully prepared for the new workload, which is why he seemingly put in some extra work this summer.

During a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, Caruso discussed the newfound durability he hopes to have this season:

“I just had a good consistent program with our strength guys. They were sending me stuff to work on back in Texas. Being consistent with my recovery and flexibility. Being in a more athletic position and being able to recover faster. All that is just consistent work. Being durable is all about pushing yourself to the max, rewinding and getting back to square one.

I don’t have specific games (goal). I want to play as many as I can. I think my career high is in the 60s. (Editor’s note: It’s 64, in 2019-20.) Maybe if we get to 70 that would be a good number. But I’m not going to limit myself. If I can play, I will play.”

Again, injury trouble can oftentimes be out of a player’s control, but it’s reassuring to know that Caruso is doing everything he can to ensure that he is equipped to handle his new role. This feels especially true when we remember that Ball will remain sidelined for the foreseeable future, which will only lead to an even greater burden on the defensive end.

At the end of the day, only time will tell if this extra time in the gym will actually result in more games played. But I sure hope that’s the case because it’s no coincidence the Bulls play their best basketball when Caruso is on the floor.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.