As most of us probably could have predicted before the NBA season started, LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been really good together this season, and, as a result, the Los Angeles Lakers have the best record in the Western Conference by 5.5 games.
What has been a pleasant surprise, though, is how well Alex Caruso has looked alongside James this season. When Caruso started to see real minutes last season, James had already shut things down, so this season is the first time we’ve really gotten to see Caruso and James on the court for extended time together, and the results have been promising.
During an Instagram Live Q&A with Jared Dudley on Saturday, Caruso talked about why he thinks his play style meshes so well with James, and reacted to a stat about how the Lakers have played with him and James on the court:
Dudley: What two players out of the whole NBA have the best plus-minus in the NBA together?
Caruso: Is it me and ‘Bron?
Dudley: You and ‘Bron! When I was looking at this... I looked at the numbers and I said ‘listen, fellas, he’s gotta play with ‘Bron more.’ I’ve been looking at these just because numbers can lie at times, people say numbers can’t lie, but someone like me, if I come in the last two or three minutes and the game is over and Dwight Howard hits a three, JaVale, I’m a plus six, but that’s not (reflective) of the game.
But for you, playing with ‘Bron, where ‘Bron is not playing when we’re getting beat down or up by 20 or 30... He’s playing the majority of our minutes. So when I saw that, that to me (made me stop) ... I was like ‘oh man, this is important for the playoffs or in the future.’ So tell me your relationship playing with ‘Bron, because I think most people are going to play better with ‘Bron, obviously, but not as good as you’ve been playing this year.
Caruso: Yeah, the plus-minus is always interesting like you said. I made a joke with somebody, I can’t remember who it was, it was like ‘you always want to be on the court whenever ‘Bron goes on one of those 10-0 scoring runs by himself. That helps your plus-minus a lot.’
But I think me and him have a, you have the same thought process too, we’re just head basketball players. Like you know spacing, you know defensive awareness, you know guys’ tendencies. I feel like me and him just have a connection of understanding the game.
I always have done a good job when I play with better players than myself. I seem to be able to raise my game, and I can’t always do that if I’m the best player on the court. Luckily I’m not going to be the best player on the court probably for the rest of my life, so I should be able to keep this up. But like, LeBron is such a transcendent talent too, it’s almost like the simpler you keep it, the easier it is to have success.
As cool as it would be if that were true, unfortunately it’s not. Among two-man lineups that have played at least 300 minutes together this season, Caruso and James are ranked 43rd in the NBA in box plus-minus (+4.1) — that’s not even the highest on the team.
The two-man lineup with the best box plus-minus on the team is unsurprisingly LeBron James and Anthony Davis (+5.9), followed by Danny Green and Davis (+4.7), James and Green (+4.6), Kyle Kuzma and James (+4.6), Avery Bradley and Davis (+4.5), and then finally Caruso and James. The two-man lineup with the best box plus-minus in the NBA is Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+9.1).
What Dudley likely meant is that Caruso and James have one of the best net ratings in the NBA. Of two-man lineups that have played at least 300 minutes together this season, Caruso and James are ranked first in net rating (20.8), followed by Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe (20.8). That’s no small feat.
Vogel’s first instinct in the postseason will likely be to play the veterans that have won in the postseason before, which isn’t a bad strategy, but he’d be remiss not to see what Caruso can do in the postseason before committing to Rondo on a near-full-time basis, especially considering how impactful the former has been with James. They’ve been really good together, and deserve a larger chance to do so when the games matter most.