When Lakers faithful lost Alex Caruso to free agency — and front office incompetence — it left a hole in their fandom. Caruso had blossomed from an unknown to a player who was the x-factor in an NBA Finals decisive game.
It hurt to not just lose one of your own, but someone who was an integral part of a title-winning team — and one that often felt underrated nationally. To be honest, it’s frustrating that hasn’t gone away and is only a wound reopened each time the Lakers play the Bulls.
What has gone some way in easing that pain has been the emergence of Austin Reaves. He’s followed a similar path to Caruso, coming from obscurity to impactful role player to starter in a very short span.
But that’s where their comparisons, aside from one other obvious one we’ll touch on, end between the two. At least that’s where they should.
Fans, though, have spent much of Reaves’ tenure comparing him to Caruso even though there are few similarities between their games. Realistically, the only reason the two are compared to one another is because they’re white.
Reaves and Caruso are aware of that, and both recently expressed they’re tired of the comparisons. Reaves appeared on the “Point Forward” podcast with Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner and talked about those comparisons.
Do you ever feel any pressure when you show up as Austin Reaves, but this was a Caruso city?
“No, not at all... I got the question the other day because we get compared a lot, and I said that ‘we’re white, and we play for the Lakers.’ And that’s really about it. But that’s nothing against him. He’s figured out how to be a really, really good on-ball defender and like I said earlier about Bron, he’s an IQ player that fit really good with Bron.”
On the flip side, Caruso spoke with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about his return to Los Angeles on Sunday to face off with Reaves and those same comparisons.
The only comparisons Caruso could state off the top of his head were both players were white and both played for the Lakers. It ended there as far as he was concerned.
“He’s a guy that’s basically been in the NBA his whole career,’’ Caruso said. “I was a guy that wasn’t drafted, went to the G-League for a year, played in three Summer Leagues to try and get on a team, and still even then grinding my way to get minutes and carving a role out.
“He’s a really good player, too. It’s the world we live in. We live in a world of comparisons and that’s what it is. Plus, it’s a part of playing in LA. I’m sure he’s in the same boat I am. He’s probably like, ‘I’m just trying to hoop and have a good career,’ and he’s getting questions like that. It’s part of the league. Something dumb like that pops up and you just move on.’’
As the pair pointed out, their games are nothing alike. Reaves has a significantly better offensive game than Caruso, especially when it comes to scoring. He’s a ball-handler that can draw fouls, create for himself and do so for others.
Caruso does none of that. He can be impactful offensively, but it was often playing off of LeBron James as a screener or cutter, using his IQ to be in the right place at the right time. It’s that same IQ mixed with his skillset and work rate that makes him one of the toughest on-ball defenders in the league.
Unironically, perhaps the biggest similarity they share on the court is that they’re both white. It’s a lazy comparison for a number of reasons, and one the pair of them are clearly tired of hearing about.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.