Alex Caruso Absolutely Deserves an All-Defensive Team Selection, But History Says it Won’t Happen
It doesn’t matter if it’s chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, shortbread, peanut butter, or synthetic rubber with leather. Alex Caruso will steal your cookies.
Since entering the NBA on a two-way contract during the 2017-18 season, the Chicago Bulls guard has turned himself into one of the league’s premier defenders. He’s held a positive defensive box plus-minus every season of his career. And his 3.4 DBPM this year, via Basketball Reference, is currently a career-high and the second-best in the NBA.
Despite his ascent up the NBA leaderboards, however, Caruso still has a spot open on his résumé for an All-Defensive Team honor. While the 29-year-old has earned a handful of votes in the past, he has yet to finish as one of the lucky 10. If there was any season for that to change, Caruso’s stats tell us that it should be this season. Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise.
Caruso is in the thick of arguably the best season of his career. As I mentioned above, his 3.4 DBPM is second to only MVP-front-runner (and plus-minus god) Nikola Jokic. And according to Dunks & Threes, Caruso sits comfortably atop the NBA in the 100th percentile with a +4.3 DEF EPM (estimated plus-minus). The next closest is DPOY frontrunner Jaren Jackson Jr. with a +3.9.
Why does Caruso sit so high? Well … there are a lot of (awesome) reasons. As we all already know, his ability to generate turnovers is among the best in the NBA. He currently sits top-10 in total steals on the season and has a STL% that ranks within the league’s 98th percentile, per Dunks & Threes. He also happens to be just one of three players this season to have 87+ steals and 33+ blocks.
When he isn’t directly getting his mitts around the basketball, though, he still finds a way to consistently disrupt the flow of the offense. Caruso is tied for drawing the 9th-most charges in the NBA and has racked up the 4th-most deflection, per NBA Stats.
Few players in the league have his combination of athleticism, defensive footwork, and timing, which is a big reason why his point-of-attack defense is such a massive difference-maker. Speaking of which …
BBall Index created a stat known as LEBRON, which you can read more about here. In short, it’s simply another way to calculate a box plus-minus, but it does take even more into consideration. They also put players into different offensive and defensive archetypes. For example, Caruso’s defensive role is considered a “point-of-attack” defender, and can you guess where he ranks among the NBA’s other point-of-attack defenders? That’s right, BBall-Index has him first with a 3.13 D-LEBRON, which is *WELL* ahead of the second-place – and 2x All-NBA Defensive Team member – Matisse Thybulle (1.94).
Even when you put aside these fancy pants numbers, all we have to do is look at this matchup minutes against some of the top scores in the NBA to see how impactful Caruso is on a nightly basis. Over his 20 minutes guarding Donovan Mitchell this season, Caruso held Mitchell to just 10-24 shooting. As for Jayson Tatum, Caruso kept him to just 11 points on a 30.8 percent effort.
I put some of his more impressive performances in the table below, so feast your eyes (numbers courtesy NBA Stats):
|Donovan Mitchell||20:00||27||41.7% (10-24)|
|Jalen Brunson||14:14||8||20.0% (2-10)|
|Tyrese Haliburton||13:25||12||41.7% (5-12)|
|Jayson Tatum||12:48||11||30.8% (4-13)|
|Shai Gilgeous-Alexander||10:58||21||47.1% (8-17)|
|Devin Booker||8:24||22||44.4% (8-18)|
|CJ McCollum||6:53||8||36.4% (4-11)|
|Trae Young||6:48||16||41.7% (5-12)|
|Jaylen Brown||5:56||9||22.2% (2-9)|
Take all of this into consideration, and it’s really freakin’ hard not to consider Caruso for a spot on either the All-Defensive First or Second Team. And it only gets that much harder when we consider the Bulls also happen to be the 7th-best defense in the NBA. I don’t think it’s out of line to say that Caruso is almost single-handedly responsible for the success on that side of the ball (although, Patrick Williams has done a very underrated job this season).
Still, the chance of him actually receiving enough votes to finally earn the accolade is highly unlikely. The Bulls sit 29-36 and are on the cusp of missing the postseason. Want to take a guess at the last time a member of either the All-NBA Defensive First or Second Team missed the playoffs? Go ahead. I’ll wait.
*Jeopardy Theme Song*
Times up. The answer is the 2005-06 season when the Utah Jazz’s Andre Kirilenko made the First Team. His team finished 41-41 on the year and 9th in the West.
Does that mean it’s impossible for Caruso to crack the roster? No. It just means that voters have heavily favored those on successful teams, which isn’t at all surprising. Whether it be Jrue Holiday, Anthony Edwards, Mikal Bridges, De’Anthony Melton, Derrick White, or Josh Hart…there are other backcourt players who are on winning teams and talented enough defensively to earn votes over Caruso. I don’t necessarily think that’s how it should be, but I can understand why that’s likely how it will be.
But, hey, I’d love to be wrong. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to Caruso’s top-shelf defensive impact, so maybe he’ll finally get the recognition he deserves.