Alex Caruso is an interesting player. He’s adept at defending and operating as a secondary playmaker, but he’s not a great ball-handler or shooter, which makes it hard to build an offense around him. That’s probably why he went undrafted in 2016.
However, in the right situation, Caruso can shine as a role player, and there’s arguably no better situation for him than with the Lakers, where he gets to play off of LeBron James. Unlike Caruso, James operates primarily with the ball in his hands, and when James has the ball, he looks to rewards his teammates that make the right plays, whether it’s setting a screen, cutting to the basket or getting open for a shot. That’s where Caruso comes in.
According to stats.nba.com, the two-man lineup of LeBron James and Alex Caruso has posted a net rating of +16.1 in the 233 minutes they’ve played together. The only two-man lineups that have a higher net rating on the Lakers (minimum 200 minutes played) are LeBron James and Danny Green, and Anthony Davis and Danny Green.
So despite James initially having no idea who Caruso was when he signed with the Lakers, their pairing has been a revelation for the team this season. During a recent interview with Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal, James talked about he believes he and Caruso have been so successful together:
“We’re one and the same when it comes to winning basketball,” James said. “To see our chemistry together... I think it comes with our minds.”
When you think of players that are on the same level as James when it comes to basketball IQ, you usually think of players like Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul, not Alex Caruso — at least not initially. But James felt a connection with Caruso early on, and he thinks that connection will only get better as Caruso grows as a player.
“I think Alex Caruso is a true definition of when opportunity meets preparation,” James said after the Lakers’ Western Conference Finals-clinching win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. “He’s been preparing for this moment for a long time and he just needed opportunity. Luke [Walton] gave him an opportunity last year, and now Coach Vogel and our coaching staff are giving him an opportunity on a bigger stage. He’s just taking full advantage of that.
“He’s just gotten better and better every single minute he’s on the floor,” James continued. “(And) he’s still learning. Every game is still a learning experience for him because he’s so new to the NBA. He played a lot of his minutes over the course of his early stages in the G League. But first time I saw him, and seeing him in some of our practices, it wasn’t the sneaky athleticism. It was the way that he defended and how cerebral he played the game.”
Those qualities led to a quick and easy connection between them.
“I gravitate toward players like that right away, because the game, everybody talks about the physical side, and how high you can jump and how fast you can run and all those things. But the mental side is what gets you to the next level,” James said. “I saw that from A.C. and he continues to learn. He’s just been great for us.”
Caruso still has a few things that he can work on that would make him a better fit next to James, including, but not limited to, his 3-point shot, but he seems to have the respect and trust of the star, which is something that he probably didn’t even expect going into the season.
Caruso and James might not be the most obvious pairing, but they work well together, kind of like ketchup and scrambled eggs. Don’t knock it until you try it!