Alex Caruso deserves the playoff spotlight

Jan 11, 2020; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) talks with guard Alex Caruso (4) during a timeout in the first half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at the Lakers’ roster four years ago during 2016, you will not see any name that is currently on this 2019-20 roster. Four years ago, LeBron James was winning his third NBA championship after the infamous and miraculous 3-1 comeback against the Golden State Warriors. Four years ago, Anthony Davis was wrapping up his fourth NBA season with the New Orleans Pelicans, a season where he averaged 24.3 points per game prior to his breakout 2016-17 season where he averaged 28.0 points per game. Four years ago, head coach Frank Vogel was let go from the Indiana Pacers after a five-year run as their head coach. You can look at the Lakers roster from top-to-bottom and nearly everyone was already established in the NBA four years ago, with the LeBrons, the Rajon Rondos, and the Dwight Howards already amassing careers that you can argue were made for the hall-of-fame. Inversely, four years ago Alex Caruso went undrafted and was picked up by the Oklahoma City Thunder’s G-League squad for their 2016-17 season. Far from a glamorous start in terms of NBA careers.

Fast-forward four years to today and you’ll see Caruso nailing a clutch three-pointer to ice a playoff game for one of the most illustrious sports franchises in America. To add to the moment, that three-pointer was entrusted to him by arguably the best player of all-time in LeBron James. He scored 16 points in the Game Four victory, a funny way for Caruso to be fully introduced to Rockets fans and America at large given the type of player Caruso usually is. He’s never greatly impacted the Lakers with his scoring, instead creating a name for himself with Lakers Twitter by being arguably the second-best player on the Lakers’ defense behind their anchor, Anthony Davis. Frank Vogel pointed this out Friday afternoon, saying that Caruso can help the Lakers even when his shot isn’t falling since his “defense is immeasurable”.

LeBron James was not shy with his praise for Caruso after Thursday’s game, and stated the following in regards to his confidence in Caruso to knock down that huge three-pointer (video and report from Ben Golliver of the Washington Post):

“He’s a guy we know we can count on. Doesn’t make many mistakes. Plays winning basketball. I didn’t have one second guess I was going to hit him in that corner. He knows I have the confidence in him.”

Let’s be real. It’s much easier for LeBron to say those types of things about Caruso after a made shot. But still, this isn’t the first time that LeBron has praised Caruso. Below is a quote from LeBron all the way back in November:

No one in the NBA is more popular than LeBron James, but it might not be crazy to say that Alex Caruso is as arguably popular with Lakers fans as Davis is. This is due to many reasons, but can probably be mostly attributed to the fact that Caruso does not look like your standard NBA player. He definitely has the height at 6’5”, but a large majority of the NBA is Black while Caruso is very obviously…well…super white. His out-of-place appearance is also highlighted by his perplexing hair, which has given him the endearing nickname of “The Bald Eagle” which may have been coined by our friends over at Silver Screen & Roll.

Caruso has, at times, become a punchline on Twitter due to the undying love he gets from Lakers fans. But still, his play is no joke. He led the Lakers in Net Rating in the regular season with a 9.8 rating, even besting LeBron James (8.5). This is highly due to his stellar defense that makes it seem like Caruso can cover every inch of the court at once. That defense gave him the most steals per 36 minutes on the Lakers at 2.1 while also having the best Defensive Rating of any Laker that qualified at 101.0. He has continued this in the playoffs, currently leading the Lakers in playoff Net Rating at 15.0.

With these statistics, the praise from LeBron James, and the basically unconditional love that he gets from Lakers Nation, it would be understandable if Caruso was the cockiest player in the NBA. Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll detailed Caruso’s responses to reporters’ questions Thursday night, showing that he continues to remain humble despite popularity unusual for a role player of his stature.

Although he’s humble, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have confidence. The last sentence says it all.

“I’m out there for a reason”.

From the G-League to nailing playoff corner threes. Caruso deserves this all, and then some.

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