I’ve wanted to write a post about Alex Caruso for a bit. Some of the discourse around the Bulls, especially defensively, has annoyed me. It feels like whenever anyone is talking about the Bulls on podcasts or writing about them for blog posts or articles, it always starts with something like “this is what happens when you build around 3 poor defensive players in LaVine, DeRozan, and Vučević, you’re going to struggle”.
I’ve written about why the offense and 3-point shooting is much more to blame for the Bulls’ struggles so I’m not going to focus on that. What I am going to focus on right now is the Bulls’ best defender by a wide margin, and that is obviously, Alex Caruso.
When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to write about this week and saw it was Alex Caruso’s birthday (on Tuesday 2/28), I thought, what better time than now to write about one of my favorite players?
Going back to what a lot of the people in the media are saying about the Bulls struggling because of their best players being poor defensively, my response is “the Bulls are currently ranked 6th in defensive rating, so what does that say about the guy that carries them defensively?”
Obviously, this is a little tongue in cheek, I don’t think the Bulls’ core 3 players are as bad defensively as they get credit for, but I also still think Caruso raises the floor of the Bulls’ defense drastically while he’s out there. I guess what I’m getting at is, if the same media people (a lot of whom have award votes) truly think the Bulls’ core 3 players are so destructive defensively that it should open any dialogue about the team, then those same people would be silly to not vote for the Bulls’ best defensive player for one of the All-NBA Defensive teams slots for all he does to get the team to the 6th best defense in the NBA. Yet, I don’t think Alex Caruso is getting adequate praise defensively and at this rate, I don’t think Caruso will be rewarded an All-Defensive spot.
One argument I’ve already seen working against Caruso is his minutes per game (MPG). He is averaging 24.2 MPG. As far as precedent goes, Matisse Thybulle (an awesome defender who isn’t as good as Caruso in my opinion) has made the team twice. The second time he essentially averaged 25 MPG, right around where Caruso is right now. The first time, he was all the way down at 20.0 MPG. So there is some precedent here.
The reason why Caruso is so valuable to the Bulls’ defense is that he is able to create chaos on the perimeter. With the Bulls’ lack of rim protection, this is much needed. Caruso’s ability to blow up action and get his hands on the ball isn’t matched by many. Even when he doesn’t get the steal, his deflections still ruin the flow of the opposing offense which is very big for the Bulls. Here are some stats on deflections.
At the end of the day, there are also not many players that can be one of the best (if not the best) point-of-attack defenders that can also effectively go down in the post and hold his own with someone like Giannis. Alex Caruso is one of the best defensive players in the league regardless of position. And he legitimately guards everyone for the Bulls. As Stacy King likes to say, it often feels like there are five Caruso’s out there for the opposing team.