LAS VEGAS- As the 6’4 guard wearing No. 4 for the Los Angeles Lakers hit shot after shot to kick off the team’s first Las Vegas Summer League victory Monday night, a near universal murmur rippled through the Thomas and Mack Center as nearly everyone in attendance seemed to be asking themselves “Who is that guy?”
Lakers co-owner and South Bay Lakers president Joey Buss wasn’t among them. He knows exactly who Alex Caruso is, and why the team wanted him.
"Caruso was an elite point guard last year in the G-League,” Buss said. “We wanted to get him in here and see what he could do, and you saw what he did tonight."
What Caruso did was have one of the more unexpected breakouts of summer league in a nearly-flawless 18-points, nine-assist performance that saw him shoot 77.8 percent from the field and knock down four of his five three-point attempts.
Caruso taking his opportunity to start in place of Lonzo Ball and running with it to such a degree may have been a shock to everyone but Buss, his teammates and himself.
"I'm proud of myself obviously,” Caruso said. “But 90 percent of the guys I saw on the court tonight I've played against, I've seen play before, we've mixed and mingled. So there's not a lack of confidence or fear of playing against them because you're on the stage now. It's just 'all right, we're gonna play basketball.' I lace my shoes up just like they do and get ready to play."
On Monday, Caruso played better than nearly any of them did, and he credited the camaraderie the Lakers have been able to create in their short time together.
"We've been together a week and we have really good team chemistry. Everybody's hypes each other up when someone gets going,” Caruso said.
His success also helped David Nwaba get going. Caruso’s fellow fellow former D-Leaguer scored a handful of his 13 points on cuts to the basket where Caruso hit him in stride, and he was among the few people in Las Vegas who were aware of what Caruso was capable of.
"Caruso is a great player. I know him from the D-League and he's a great point guard. We have a little chemistry and he found me on cuts to the basket,” Nwaba said. “He did his job. He had assists, scored the ball, moved the ball when guys were open, and I'm glad it worked out.”
As things were working out for him on the floor, Caruso’s cell phone was getting a workout off of it. After the game, he was unable to even estimate how many text messages he had gotten from family and friends because of the horde of excited Lakers fans flooding his notifications with Instagram comments, but he was still unfazed by his sudden bout of stardom.
“That's the NBA in a nutshell. Every night is going to be a different guy, you're going to have your stars, and then you should have other guys who step up and play big,” Caruso said. “I filled those shoes tonight."
It’s unclear what the future holds for Caruso after his big night, but whatever happens, a lot more people know who he is now, and isn’t that the point summer league?
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.