Caruso and James have the best net rating of any two-man pairing in the NBA that has played at least 300 minutes together this season, and between Caruso’s effectiveness both off the ball and as a defender, and James’ ability to set up teammates who can use motion at a high level, lineups featuring the two have been among the best the Lakers can throw out there on the court. One might not look at the undrafted, former G Leaguer and the guy who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 under the title “Chosen One” and see a natural pairing, but it works for the Lakers.
Caruso has chalked his and James’ effectiveness up to the two having “a connection” and the way James appreciates his approach and competitiveness. For his part, James has praised the way Caruso consistently finds a way to make an impact whether it gives him a stat or not, and called his presence “a luxury” for the Lakers.
But it’s not just on the court where James has helped Caruso grow. Caruso was asked about the teammate he’s paired so naturally with during an interview on “The Liuccicast,” and if there is anything people don’t know about James that they should, and Caruso wanted to talk about James’ character:
“I don’t know if there is something you don’t know about LeBron, but I think there is something people need to know if they have an assumption. It’s two things, one is that he is an outstanding person. He is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had as far as just being one of the guys, chopping it up, playing hard, making sure he’s ready to go every day, and to piggyback on that, his work ethic is unbelievable.
“He’s in year 17 of his NBA career, doing what he’s doing and the only reason he’s doing that is that he works on his body every day, he gets treatment every day, he eats right. He does all the little necessary steps to be able to perform on the court, and that’s something that’s really rubbed off on me. (I am) just growing into being a pro, but there’s levels to being a pro. Like there’s championship-levels of being a pro, and there’s collecting a paycheck levels. So learning from him and seeing that there is a greater level to get to has been awesome.”
James’ work ethic may be the stuff of legend at this point to the degree that it’s somewhat become normalized, but take a moment and think about what Caruso just said. This is a guy that had to grind his way up from the G League, fighting, scrapping and working his tail off the whole way, saying that he learned how to work harder than he already had to in order get to the Lakers from a guy who has almost nothing left to prove to the basketball world. Think about how hard James must be working to make that kind of impression. That’s perhaps the best illustration of his approach we’ve ever seen.
The other thing of note here is how having players as motivated as James and Caruso should only help the Lakers when (and if) the season returns in July. While no player has been able to stay in NBA shape over this break due to the lack of games, with a star like James setting the example and a culture of role players like Caruso who all want to get after it, it feels safe to assume that the Lakers will have stayed just as (if not more) prepared for the league to return than most teams. And if Caruso and James’ chemistry continues to blossom along with the rest of the team’s excellent synergy, it may be enough to give them a small advantage during what will still likely be some rusty stretches of early basketball.