One of the most popular signings the Lakers made to fill out their roster Saturday, at least among the diehards in their fanbase, was bringing back Alex Caruso for the 2019-20 season on a two-year deal.
Caruso joins a point guard rotation that includes Rajon Rondo and Quinn Cook, less competition than he faced last year when Lonzo Ball was on the team and Brandon Ingram could also assume point guard duties. Consequently, the Lakers expect him to have a bigger role on this year’s team, as reported by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:
Lakers bring back Alex Caruso. They like him and feel he could potentially play a bigger backup role this season than he’s had https://t.co/RJ543FUEmn— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) July 6, 2019
The key wording from Youngmisuk’s comments is “backup role”, meaning that the Lakers presumably still expect Rondo to be the starting point guard. Either that, or the team could have some fluid positionless lineups featuring two shooting guards alongside LeBron James and no nominal point guard.
However, Caruso was superior to Rondo in just about every statistic last season. He was far better defensively, which is much more important in the starting lineup than among reserves. He was a more effective scorer (57.3% true shooting compared to 47.6% for Rondo, per Cleaning the Glass) and also turned the ball over less frequently.
Caruso’s fit next to ball-dominant players like James and DeMarcus Cousins is also much cleaner. He shot 10% better on catch-and-shoot jumpers than Rondo and is simply a more willing ball-mover than the veteran guard. Rondo took 35% of his shots after 7 or more dribbles, per NBA stats, while Caruso only took 18.7% of his shots in those situations. Keep in mind that Caruso played most of his minutes with more offensively-limited players during the last two months of the season.
Even though the coaching staff still seemingly rates Caruso below Rondo, the fact that they expect a bigger backup role from him at least suggests that Caruso’s play last season did not go unnoticed. The Lakers were 3.8 points better per 100 possessions than their opponents with him on the floor, and he brought a life and verve to the team that it was missing for much of the year.
Caruso had some seriously surprising highlights when he showed off his bounce, including one putback dunk against the Warriors when Kevin Harlan joyously exclaimed, “You cannot stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” His missed a put-back dunk on Rudy Gobert that was arguably more impressive just for the sheer audacity of the attempt.
More importantly, Caruso showed the ability to effectively lead an NBA offense as the Lakers picked up surprising wins over teams in the playoff chase late in the year with him at the helm, including the Jazz and the Clippers. Although it seemed like some of the team was playing out the string waiting for the year to end, Caruso was fighting for his NBA life, and it appears to have paid off.
The Lakers let go of almost all of their youth in building this year’s team, but Caruso is a homegrown success story. Getting to reap the rewards of the franchise’s developmental process in a Laker uniform is a treat for the team and fans alike.
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