There was recognition for what he did in Los Angeles, but that was a tough town for his act to truly be appreciated. That’s not the case for the Bulls, where Caruso is impacting games and winning with his defense.
NEW YORK – Hollywood was lukewarm on Alex Caruso’s act.
They loved the guy, respected his hustle, but Los Angeles is lights, camera, action. It’s Magic, LeBron, and Showtime.
A white guy from Texas, wearing a headband, and diving on the hardwood just to deflect a ball?
Yeah, it gets more than a golf clap, but doesn’t exactly move the needle.
Show that same hustle to the Midwest, where there’s still that innate fabric of lunch pails and hard hats? Now there’s a blockbuster, and Caruso just happens to be the leading man.
“Maybe … I don’t know,” Caruso said on Friday, when asked if what he does on the basketball court is more appreciated outside of LA. “I just feel like a lot of times playing on the West Coast for four years, specifically the last two, the Lakers get thrown into the media regardless. So sometimes people may think it’s fool’s gold or just another headline or highlight instead of actually paying attention to the game. Maybe they’re just finally being enlightened to how I actually play.”
How Caruso plays was best summed up in one word by Tom Thibodeau.
“Disruptive,” the Knicks coach said, after Caruso’s latest showing in the Bulls beating New York on Thursday.
Irritant, stopper, pest … all other words the former Bulls coach could have used.
In the 119-115 Bulls win, Caruso scored just six points, but had four steals, a huge deflection that led to Zach LaVine’s late-game free throws, and even got Taj Gibson so incensed with his defense that the veteran lost his cool and was ejected from the game.
How dominant was Caruso when he was on the court? He finished the game with a plus-21 in plus/minus, and the next closest teammates were LaVine and Nikola Vucevic at a plus-7.
“He’s a dog, man,” veteran teammate DeMar DeRozan said. “There’s times we look at the stat sheet after games and he’s like four or five steals. Just the energy he brings defensively, it triggers us because we try and live up to the standards that Alex is going to bring out there on the court. It’s incredible the things that he does defensively. If Shaq [O’Neal] was playing he would try and go out there and figure out how to guard him.”
“He might get a steal,” LaVine chipped in.
He just might.
Caruso entered Friday leading the NBA in steals with 2.3 per game. Of the other players in the top 10, the Bulls guard was the only one playing less than 30 minutes per game. Caruso also leads the Association in deflections per game at 3.9 (tied with Dejounte Murray), and total deflections with 85.
His numbers might be up from the last few seasons with the Lakers, but his game is the same. So why all the recognition now?
“To be candid, probably just because it’s on the West Coast and nobody stays up to watch those games,” Caruso said. “The stuff that I do isn’t always glamorous. It doesn’t always get highlighted. You might have seen a dunk or two over the years, like a pass to LeBron [James] or AD [Anthony Davis], but stuff I do isn’t sexy. It’s stuff that wins basketball games.
“What I love doing is playing and winning basketball games, so for me getting recognition, not getting recognition is not going to change how I live my life, how I play the game, how I interact with people on the team, my family, so people love making a big deal out of it, but for me it’s really just playing basketball.”
That’s why award talk, such as All-NBA Defensive Team honors, can wait.
“Yeah, I mean at the end of the day we’re all humans, we’d like to be rewarded for things we do well,” Caruso said. “Specifically, doing jobs that are hard to do, but there’s a lot of season. I’ve got to do it for another 75% of these games, and there’s 60 games or so, so we’ll maybe talk about it a little bit more in-depth when the time comes, but for now I think if I start thinking about that then I kind of get away from what brings me so much success, which is what I talked about – kind of staying present and try and winning each possession.”