Elite defense can be hard to put into perspective. We have our eyes, sure. But beyond that, advanced analytics have yet to quantify defensive impact as well as they have on the other side of the ball. And that’s why the performance of a player like Alex Caruso can often go under-appreciated.
Indeed, Caruso’s defensive IQ is practically the lone reason the Chicago Bulls currently claim the NBA’s 12th-best defensive rating. Without him barking out orders and handling on some of the toughest matchups, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls putting together their most recent 11-6 stretch.
His ability to generate turnovers, in particular, has been a significant part of helping the Bulls pull off some critical wins this season. Most recently, Caruso has recorded 14 steals over the team’s last four games (of which they’ve won the last three), which happens to be more than any player in the NBA. The expert pickpocketer is now 9th in total steals this season with 68 and possesses a 3.3 STL% that ranks in the league’s 98th percentile, per Dunks & Threes.
Also, when he isn’t the one snatching the basketball from the opposing team, he’s at least getting a hand on it. Caruso’s 3.9 deflections per game sit tied with Toronto’s OG Anunoby atop the NBA leaderboards. These consistent hustle plays have been a key contributor in helping Chicago sit top-10 in points scored off turnovers each night.
The BBall Index recently plotted the players with the best pickpocketing ability and passing lane defense. And if the chart doesn’t show you just how extraordinary Caruso is as a disruptor, I don’t know what will.
Is it officially time to trademark Caruso Island?
I seriously can’t emphasize enough how impressive it is to see Caruso that far ahead of his competition. It really does speak to how valuable he is as a rotational piece and how greatly he can impact winning. We saw this on full display just last night night against the Atlanta Hawks when he recorded 3 steals and helped hold Trae Young to just 43.0 percent shooting and a mortal 21 points.
If we go and look at NBA Stats’ matchup data, Caruso has now held Young to just 5-12 shooting this season in roughly 7 minutes of guarding him. Meanwhile, he’s held the Hawks’ second-leading scorer, Dejounte Murray, to just 2-6 shooting in roughly 5 minutes of defending him one-on-one.
“I thought it was a lot of individual stuff. I talk a lot about the things that go into winning and impact winning,” Donovan said of Caruso after Monday’s Bulls win. “A lot of times you look down at the stat sheet and you look at it. But there are so many other things that impact the game, and I think Alex does all those things.”
The Chicago Bulls now give up 6.8 fewer points per 100 possessions whenever Caruso is on the floor, which is an on/off differential that ranks in the league’s 93rd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Their forced TOV% also jumps up 5.6 percentage points when he’s in the lineup, which sits in the tip-top 100th percentile of NBA players.
Overall, we’re talking about an individual whose defensive EPM (estimated plus-minus) is second in the entire NBA (+3.4) behind only the Memphis Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr., per Dunks & Threes. Do I really need to keep explaining to you how insane that is?
I know it may just feel like I’m chucking a bunch numbers at the wall, but I’m not sure how else to get across just how outstanding Caruso has been on that end of the floor this year. The man ranks among the best in almost any given category, which perhaps helps explain why (as silly as it may sound) recent reports have referred to him as being an “untouchable” asset. If the Bulls want to keep winning basketball games, trading Caruso could truly be one of the craziest things to do.