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Player evaluations: Alex Caruso makes the Bulls work

Will Gottlieb Avatar
May 18, 2022

Here at CHGO, we’re kicking off the Bulls summer with evaluations of each individual player’s season.

Today, it’s time to look at Alex Caruso’s 2021-2022 season.

Alex Caruso’s core stats:

Box stats per game:
  • 7.4 points
  • 3.6 rebounds
  • 4.0 assists (career-high)
  • 1.7 steals (career-high)
  • 0.4 blocks
Shooting splits:
  • 46.2 percent on 2- point field goals
  • 33.3 percent on 3-point field goals
  • 79.5 percent on free throws
  • 52.8 true shooting percentage
All-in-one metrics:

These overall advanced stats are another piece of the puzzle to add context when evaluating players. The four in this table are considered to be some of the best. Zero is roughly average. Check out this article to learn more about each metric.

Defensive savant

Despite playing only half the games, Caruso’s impact on the defense cannot be quantified. Actually, that’s a lie, the advanced numbers do a pretty great job showing he is one of the best defenders in the league.

Caruso’s 5.0 Defensive Raptor ranked third in the entire NBA. His 2.1 Defensive EPM was in the 94th percentile of the NBA and the Bulls allowed 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Caruso on the court compared to when he was off, ranking in the 96th percentile.

It’s a shame Caruso was injured so much this season (curse you Grayson Allen), beacuse his defense is among the elite of the elite. I did a deep, deep, deep dive into Caruso’s greatness on the defensive side of the ball, so without getting too in the weeds, Caruso was the captain, best player, leader, coach and teacher of the defense.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, Caruso was clearly hobbled by his back injury and his wrist injury was still not 100 percent healed. In spite of that, Caruso did a tremendous job defending 1-5 in the Bucks in the first round playoff matchup. He was a force defending the point of attack on the perimeter. He was impenetrable as a post defender against Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. His timing and positioning as a help defender saved the Bulls defense countless baskets. He was even able to push Giannis Antetokounmpo off his spots and force him into difficult shots.

Very few players in the NBA have the ability to defend 1-5 at an elite level. The Bulls are lucky to have one of them.

Impact and outlook

Although the numbers are not particularly pretty, Caruso’s offensive role should not be overlooked. Specifically Caruso’s career-high in assists and assist-to-usage ratio (assist rate relative to how often he had the ball) are telling. Lonzo Ball got a ton of deserved credit for being the ball mover and connective tissue of the Bulls offense, but Caruso was just as important in that role, and even more important given that Ball missed so much time.

His presence as a ball-handler and point guard was invaluable in the Bucks series, as one of the few players who could get the ball across half court against Milwaukee’s full court pressure. He allowed DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine to get the ball in their spots rather than expending the extra effort to get their themselves.

In a vacuum, signing a four-year contract $37.96 million at the mid-level is an absolute steal. According to 538’s player valuation tool, he was worth $73.2 million over five years. He became a leader and mentor of the younger players on the team. He provided elite production as a stopper, floor general and player coach, and clearly outperformed his contract.

Within the context of the Bulls roster construction, his is exactly the kind of deal that allows Arturas Karnisovas and his team to be aggressive acquiring other star players. The Bulls front office has been criticized for the prices they paid to acquire DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, but you have to pay to get great players. Filling out the rest of the roster becomes a challenge with limited resources, but if they can continue to find steals like this on the open market, the Bulls are going to be in great shape.

Previous evaluations:

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