Alex Caruso will start his first career playoff game in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Friday, according to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic. Dwight Howard, who has started the last seven games for the Los Angeles Lakers, will move to the bench.
Howard’s demotion to the bench shouldn’t come as some big surprise. While he was serviceable against Nikola Jokic in the Western Conference Finals, he’s been a non-factor against the Heat in the Finals, posting a team-worst defensive rating of 126.3 in the 70 minutes he’s played. The Lakers are 17.6 points better on defense per 100 possessions with Howard on the bench. On offense, he’s nearly a net neutral (+0.6).
What is a little surprising is who’s starting in place of Howard.
With Caruso in the starting lineup, the Lakers will play three guards alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that Caruso will have to take and make more 3-pointers than he has all season. That’s especially true if the Heat decide that he’s the guy they want to sag off of, which wouldn’t be such a bad idea given the fact that Caruso’s shot 28.8% from 3-point range in the postseason, and 32.7% in the Finals.
It’s also surprising because Caruso’s been a net negative for the Lakers in the Finals despite how well he’s done on the likes of Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn. Over the last five games, Caruso’s posted a net rating of -2.1, which is the second-worst net rating of anyone on the team that has played at least 10 minutes in the Finals.
This is probably the first time the numbers haven’t matched the eye test with Caruso, so it will be interesting to see how he looks with this group. The five-man unit of Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James and Anthony Davis has posted a net rating of+51.9 in the 12 minutes they’ve played together so far, but none of those minutes have come against the Heat (h/t Aaron Larsuel of Lakers.com).
We’ll see how it goes when he Lakers and Heat tip off tonight at 4:30 p.m., on ABC.