When the Los Angeles Lakers opened their regular season against the LA Clippers on Tuesday, Alex Caruso was a healthy scratch. Head coach Frank Vogel said he nearly put Caruso in the game when his team needed another ball-handler and a boost on defense, but decided not to.
On Friday, Vogel decided to trust his gut and gave Caruso his first minutes of the season against the Utah Jazz. As it turns out, his gut was right.
Caruso started the second half and was part of the lineup that extended the Lakers’ lead to double digits in the third quarter. The five-man lineup of Caruso, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James and Anthony Davis posted a net rating of +36.4 and allowed just just 82.4 points per 100 possessions. No lineup that featured Caruso posted a negative net rating.
Following the game, Vogel said his decision to put Caruso in the game had to do with how much of the burden James was carrying offensively.
“Offensively, it felt like LeBron was being asked to do too much, so we put another small in there in Alex Caruso, who we asked to stay ready and be available and he did a great job staying ready,” Vogel said.
Caruso ended the night with just 2 points on two attempts, but his defense was a big part of the Lakers’ run in the third quarter. Through 10:55 in the quarter, he posted a defensive rating of 82.4.
Caruso wasn’t satisfied with the way he played offensively — saying he was “really upset” with a few of the “lazy passes” he made upon entering the game — but he also understands that he’s not expected to be the focal point of the offense when he’s on the floor.
“I know what my role is, especially when guys like LeBron and AD are on the court: Come in, play really good defense. I mean, that’s probably what I’m best at: Just being a really good team defender and spacing the floor and creating advantages for them on offense. I just try to do that to the best of my ability and I think I did pretty well today,” Caruso said.
That being said, Caruso said he’s excited to see how the Lakers look when they’re firing on all cylinders on offense.
“We’re not even playing our best. Offensively, I think these first two games we’ve gotten better from game one to game two, but we’re still not even close to the potential of this team,” Caruso said.