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Frank Vogel: Alex Caruso has become ‘one of our best players’

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The cat’s out of the bag: Alex Caruso is more than a meme.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are a better team when Alex Caruso is on the floor. That much was clear last season, but he’s made it even harder to ignore this season.

Per 100 possessions, the Lakers have allowed teams to score 96.8 points with Caruso on the floor. With Caruso on the bench, they’ve allowed 106.8 points per 100 possessions. That 10-point differential is the best on the team (minimum 100 minutes played).

For the season, Caruso is a +113 in the box score, which is ranked 21st in the NBA. His teammates, Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and LeBron James, are all in the top-20, with James sitting at third behind Kawhi Leonard and Mike Conley.

He’s also shooting 50% from 3-point range while attempting a career-high 2.2 3-pointers game. Caruso is one of eight players shooting at least 50% from behind the arc while averaging at least two 3-point attempts per game.

The Lakers once viewed Caruso as their secret weapon. Now, there’s no hiding how valuable he’s been to the team.

“He’s certainly one of our best players,” Frank Vogel said on Monday. “That’s the simplest way to put it. He typically moves the needle in a positive direction and you see that with the plus-minus, not just in these two games, but throughout all of last year. We do want to make sure that we’re using our depth so we’re not overplaying too many guys, but Alex is just one of those guys that impacts both ends of the floor.

“(He) really, really impacts our defense, and his versatility offensively, the ability to knock down threes and also make plays off the bounce, be a good screener, be a crasher, be a roller in LeBron’s pick and rolls, they’re all ways that he impacts the offensive end as well. So definitely we got huge contributions from him tonight.”

The Lakers will have an opportunity to show Caruso just how valuable they think he is this summer in free agency, when his two-year, $5.5 million contract will expire. Caruso still has holes in his game that stick out like a sore thumb when he’s not in lineups that maximize his strengths, but with the core and the head coach that’s currently in place, he’s a perfect fit.

Step one: Play AC. Step two: Pay AC.

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