Alex Caruso and LeBron James have become one of the most effective pairings in the entire league, both in the regular season and now in the NBA playoffs. It’s a bond that was on full display to the world when James trusted Caruso to hit a huge shot at the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference against the Houston Rockets to help the Lakers avoid a collapse, but something readers of this site know has actually been building for quite a while.
Lineups featuring Caruso and James were incredible dating back to the 2018-19 season, when groupings that included the pair outscored opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions. They clearly had chemistry, and have since proved it was more than just a late-season fluke, as they also had the best net rating of any duo midway through this season, something Caruso chalked up to both of them being smart players who understand where Caruso should cut, and when he should get the ball, among other factors.
Their success bred camaraderie, from James joining in on the internet joke of calling Caruso the GOAT, to Caruso feeling as though James values his commitment to winning and has helped him understand the game at a deeper level.
Considering where they started, that’s pretty remarkable, because Caruso told Ben Cohen of The Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t think James was aware of his existence prior to joining the Lakers.
“He definitely didn’t know who I was,” said Alex Caruso.
Cohen’s whole profile on Caruso featured the incredible headline “Alex Caruso: The LeBron of Playing With LeBron,” and is a must-read mainly because it really did show why Caruso deserves that title. Their two-man net rating (18.6) is better than James has ever had with any other teammate, and they’ve played together enough at this point that their success can’t just be seen as simply a statistical aberration anymore. Caruso is just really good at playing alongside James, and at taking advantage of the holes and tears the superstar creates in NBA defenses.
Caruso, who is as humble as professional athletes come, did not expect that stat when Cohen presented it to him:
Caruso was surprised by this. He was also curious. He wanted to know who else was high on the list. As it turned out, James’s championship teams were at their best when he shared the floor with Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Matthew Dellavedova, similarly unsung players who became valuable by embracing their roles. “That’s pretty good company,” Caruso said.
That is, indeed, some pretty good company among LeBron role players. James has always been great at making guys like Caruso good, but Caruso also deserves credit for the way his skills make him the perfect remora fish to latch on to James’ great white shark. He cleans up on little easy plays that are created by James feasting on their overmatched opponents, and both players benefit from the arrangement. It’s not a bad end point, considering how unfamiliar James was with Caruso when they started.