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Laker Film Room: Alex Caruso has been a breath of fresh air for the Lakers

Alex Caruso is showing that he belongs in the NBA, and hopefully with the Lakers.

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers signed Alex Caruso to a two-year, two-way contract in July of 2017, utilizing the NBA’s newest player development mechanism in their effort to build a more robust minor-league system. Under the terms of these unique contracts, players are allowed to spend 45 days with the parent club while playing for their G-League affiliate for the rest of the season.

Caruso is playing well enough that it makes you wonder if he could have made a difference for the injury-depleted Lakers if they used some of those 45 days a bit sooner.

He’s a breath of fresh air, both in terms an energy level that starkly contrasts with some of the more established Lakers players, but also Caruso’s understanding of motion offense concepts. He is the son of a basketball coach, and it shows, as he demonstrates command overpass, cut, and replace (motion) concepts as well as the desire to set quality screens for teammates in early offense.

Caruso’s spot-up shooting will likely be the difference between whether or not he’s a third point guard/fringe NBA player or a second-string, rotational contributor. So far, so good on that front in small sample size, with him knocking down 7-13 (53.8%) from 3-point range this season. He frequently passed up these looks as an NBA rookie last season but is taking them without hesitation this year. He doesn’t need to become a sniper on this front, just someone who the defense has to respect.

He’s a plus defender, although one with a clear difference between his strengths and weaknesses. He has high-end instincts and good athleticism, allowing him to jump passing lanes or leave his man to step in front of a driving opponent. But he isn’t strong enough to hold off bigger players down low, and struggles to stay in front of quick guards who can change direction.

Basically, he’s still an asset on the defensive end, but only in specific ways.

We’re all in different phases of processing what a terrible season this was, and it’s easy for my mind to wander during these remaining, meaningless games. I’m grateful to Alex Caruso for giving me something to pay attention to.

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