Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, we continue with Alex Caruso.
How did he play?
On defense, it would have been hard for Alex Caruso to play any better than he did this past season. Through 64 regular season appearances with the Lakers, Caruso posted a defensive box plus-minus of +2.4, which wasn’t just the second-best DBPM on the team behind Anthony Davis (+2.6); it ranked in the top-10 among all players that logged at least 1,000 minutes in the regular season.
Here is the Top 10 in its entirety, according to Basketball Reference:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (+4.1)
- Nerlens Noel (+3.4)
- Kris Dunn (+3.1)
- Matisse Thybulle (+3.1)
- Marc Gasol (+2.8)
- Anthony Davis (+2.6)
- Patrick Beverley (+2.5)
- Donte DiVincenzo (+2.4)
- Kawhi Leonard (+2.4)
- Alex Caruso (+2.4)
I think that’s good.
Caruso also ended the regular season with the best defensive rating (101) of anyone on the Lakers that played at least 1,000 minutes. With Caruso on the bench the Lakers posted a defensive rating of 107.4. That 6.4-point differential was the most dramatic drop-off on the team.
However, as good as Caruso was on the defensive end in the regular season, there was some concern that he wouldn’t be able to play as much in the postseason because of how much he struggled offensively.
During the regular season, Caruso shot 41.2% from the field, including 33.3% from behind the arc. For that reason, he was the guy that opposing defenses were comfortable leaving open in the postseason.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Caruso was just as impactful in the playoffs as he was in the regular season. In the postseason, Caruso was once again the leader in the defensive rating (+103.6). With Caruso off of the court, the Lakers allowed 111.4 points per 100 possessions, a staggering drop off.
On offense, the Lakers were 4 points better per 100 possessions with Caruso on the bench — a 3.7 points drop-off from the regular season — but he still had the fourth-highest net rating on the team in spite of that. I guess James was right when he said Caruso making shots is just “extra credit” for the team.
The highlight of Caruso’s season came in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, when Frank Vogel gave him the starting nod. It was the first postseason start of Caruso’s career, and only his third start of the season. In that crucial Game 6, Caruso posted a team-best defensive rating of 83.8. and a team-high net rating of 27.8.
In short, Caruso was given an opportunity to shine and he delivered, which has kind of been the story of his career to date.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Caruso will enter the second year of the two-year, $5.5 million contract he signed in the summer of 2019. He is due $2.75 million for the 2020-21 season.
Once Caruso’s contract expires in 2021, he will be unrestricted free agent, but the Lakers will have his bird rights, meaning they’ll be able to go over the cap to sign him so long as they 1) don’t surpass the luxury tax apron and 2) don’t renounce his cap hold, which is projected to be $5.2 million, according to Basketball Insiders.
Will he be back?
I sure hope so. With both Anthony Davis and LeBron James expected to be on the roster next season, the Lakers will need to find bargains where they can, and there are few better value contracts in the NBA than Caruso’s.
There was a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic in March that the Lakers offered the Detroit Pistons Caruso and draft compensation in exchange for Derrick Rose, but hopefully they have a better understanding of what they have in Caruso now than they did then. Caruso might not be the youngest MVP in league history, but he’s damn good, and the Lakers are lucky to have him.
Outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, he should be the only untouchable player on the roster. That’s not being hyperbolic, or playing into the memes. At his salary number and age, his contributions make him that valuable.
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