Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso has sort of become a meme. We’re as guilty for this as anyone, and it’s all through no fault of Caruso’s own. All he’s done is play really hard and turn himself into a legit NBA player.
But fans have latched on to Caruso, and not just because of his play. It would probably be fair to say that it’s in part because he basically looks like if a blogger got into really good shape and started dunking on people in NBA games. He’s the wispy-haired, swole Lakers backcourt savior who is capable of looking like both an early super-soldier program candidate and a cool stepdad at the same time.
Or as now-former-teammate Moe Wagner memorably put it last year, “people think because Caruso is half-bald and white he can’t jump, (but) he’s got bounce. He’s probably top-five on our team with bounce.”
And it’s not just casual fans and Moe Wagner that Caruso has surprised with his dunking prowess, either. Look at LeBron James’ reactions to his dunks in this video from the actual Lakers. Everyone is embracing Caruso as a fan (and apparently teammate) favorite.
Again, all this is (hopefully clearly) meant with no disrespect to Caruso. He’s obviously proved himself as a better athlete than 99.999% of the world’s population, and we probably shouldn’t be so surprised at this point. Still, no matter how many times the internet sees it, this is still basically all of us every time he throws down on Kevin Durant, or attempts to dunk on Rudy Gobert.
Caruso says he’s enjoyed the memes, but it’s also clear that he doesn’t really like to play to them. Every time he’s asked about one of his dunks or impressive performances, he makes it clear that regardless of how shocked any of us or his teammates react, none of this is a surprise to him, with the latest instance of this tendency coming in a chat with Chris McGee of Spectrum Sportsnet:
McGee: You had some memorable dunks, too. Guys getting out of their seats. LeBron James. People are always excited when you’re throwing it down, but you’ve been doing that your whole career, haven’t you?
Caruso: Yeah that’s pretty normal for me. It’s kind of just par for the course as far as I’m concerned. But for people who don’t get to see that on such a national scale, yeah, it’s a little different.
Caruso has a point, too. I’m not saying anyone should stop having fun or hyping him up on the internet, but there is a case to be made that Caruso doesn’t really need to be overhyped. His play down the stretch has already proven that he’s more than just a meme. He’s a legit NBA player.
Caruso averaged 17.8 points, 8.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game last season once he entered the starting lineup. He also shot a scorching (and probably unsustainable but still promising) 47.7% on threes over the final 15 games of the year. He’s also been dunking on people long before he got to the Lakers:
And perhaps most importantly for Caruso’s fortunes this season, in limited time with LeBron, the duo looked to have great chemistry. Lineups featuring Caruso and James last year scored 111.7 points per 100 possessions and held opponents to 102.6, a net rating of 9.1 points per 100 possessions. They should get a real shot to play together more this season.
But for those skeptical whether or not his performance over the season’s final stretch was legit last season, Caruso should have a real opportunity to prove himself this year. The Lakers’ backcourt has tons of question marks, and as a willing-and-able shooter who can also make plays and defend, Caruso is the most well-rounded member of it.
If Caruso succeeds next season, the fanaticism surrounding him will go to another level. There really is nothing that excites a a team’s supporters more than a fan-favorite living up to the hype.
Just don’t expect Caruso to act surprised if it happens. After all, this is all “just par for the course” for him. Maybe it should be for us, too.