The Los Angeles Lakers came out of the All-Star break in a big way last night, winning their first game back against the Memphis Grizzlies, 117-105. Although the Grizzlies definitely aren’t one of the teams the Lakers will be fighting deep in the playoffs for a championship, they are currently the 8th seed in the West and may end up being the Lakers’ first-round matchup.
Quickly looking at the box scores from last night, a certain bench player’s plus/minus for the night stands out amongst the rest. That player is Alex Caruso, as he has been building a resume of large plus/minus totals lately as his minutes have been seemingly increasing. Last night, in particular, he had a +23 that was second to only Danny Green’s +26. There was only one other play in double-digits in plus/minus, and that was Anthony Davis at +11.
Although a single-game plus/minus total can be misleading and/or an anomaly, Caruso has been doing this here and there lately and a +23 in a 12-point win is nothing to scoff at. Speaking of plus/minuses, the Lakers’ best duo on the team in Net Rating involves Caruso and another player that’s kind of decent, LeBron James. In fact, LeBron and Caruso lead the entire league in Net Rating for two-player combinations (minimum of 300 minutes played together).
Frank Vogel discussed this pairing last night, and indicated that this was a reason for Caruso’s minutes increasing (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll).
Frank Vogel says that the stats on how well lineups featuring Alex Caruso and LeBron have played have led him to play AC more.
"LeBron and Alex is one of our best combinations this season."
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) February 22, 2020
Lakers fans have been clamoring for Caruso to get more minutes all season, and it’s nice to see that Vogel is not only seeing the statistics that back up this argument but that he’s actually implementing changes because of the statistics he sees. Just last night, Caruso played 23 minutes off the bench while Rajon Rondo only played 16. Also, if you look at the graphic above from “NBA Rotations”, you can see that Vogel did want to play Caruso in the 2nd with the bench unit that didn’t have LeBron, but that he specifically subbed Caruso in for Rondo in the fourth quarter so that Caruso could play the rest of the game with LeBron and the other finishers.
Rondo will always be the one that may be stealing minutes away from Caruso due to their positions and how both will be coming off the bench, so it’s nice to see Caruso get those minutes in a game that was more hard-fought than the score may reflect.