LOS ANGELES — The only thing more persistent than Alex Caruso might be his own blood.
In the Lakers’ win over the Timberwolves on Sunday night, the game had to be stopped twice so that trainers could furiously try to clot the blood gushing from Caruso’s knee and showing through the compression shorts he was wearing. The bleed came from a scab Caruso has been dealing with for a few games, and he said the issue was his fault because he didn’t wrap the injury the same way he and the medical staff normally have been prior to games.
“And of course I fall right on it,” Caruso sighed to himself after the game. “It was a deeper cut than the original one, so it was bleeding pretty well.”
As far as critiques go, though, his bandaging technique was just about the only valid one of Caruso on the evening. The fan-favorite guard continued a strong recent stretch of play with 16 points on 6-11 shooting to go with 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals — along with his typically excellent defense — in 30 minutes off the bench.
The number that stands out the most there is probably the shooting, given Caruso’s struggles to get his jumper to fall earlier in the season. Over the last six games, Caruso has made 66.7% of his 3-pointers, and shot nearly 60% from the field overall. Prior to that, Caruso was shooting 41.6% from the field, and just 28.6% from three.
During those struggles, he continually assured reporters that he was still confident, and said he was going to continue shooting until his shots started to fall every time he was asked about it. He says that even privately, he never doubted himself.
“It’s not doubt, it’s just frustration. Because like I said, I put so much time in to it, and for me, I want to do everything perfect,” Caruso said. “I want to not give up any points, I want to make every shot I take, I want to make all the right passes. That’s just kind of who I am.”
Now that he’s making more such shots, Caruso is even more valuable for the Lakers. Caruso was already a difference-maker for the team on defense, where they allow an astounding 9.5 more points per 100 possessions when he sits than they do when he plays, the same as the difference between the top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks and 20th-ranked Timberwolves. But if Caruso is hitting shots, too, he can more adequately open up space for the Lakers on the other end, eliminating one of the primary knocks against his case for more playing time.
And while Caruso may say he never lacked faith that his shots would start to fall, he did admit that his teammates and coaches helped him deal with his frustration with his play by telling him they had confidence in him as a shooter.
“Nobody told me go sit in the corner and don’t do anything,” Caruso said. “They just told me keep working and shoot it when you’re open.”
But while Caruso may say he hasn’t changed his approach, Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel has noticed a few differences in his point guard.
“He’s just playing with a lot of confidence on that end,” Vogel said of Caruso’s recent improvement on offense. “He’s really improved his paint decisions more than anything. He’s a confident 3-point shooter. We’re encouraging him to shoot when they run under the screens. He’s knocking down some of those. That’s getting him going downhill more.
“When he’s getting into the paint, we’re in a no-force, no-stress type of mindset offensively where he’s gonna drive hard to the basket and if he doesn’t have anything he’s gonna make an extra pass and keep it safe. As a result of that, when he shoots, he’s shooting a far higher percentage at the rim.”
Caruso’s assessment of his improved shooting was a little simpler.
“Now they’re going in,” Caruso said.
He never doubted they would.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.