Why did Alex Caruso return to Bulls despite not being 100% healthy?

Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Alex Caruso came back from his wrist fracture just when the Bulls needed him, but it may have been at his own expense. 

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso missed nearly two months after fracturing his wrist in a late January game against the Milwaukee Bucks. After he was shelved, the team went through a rough stretch without him and almost completely lost its defensive identity.

So Caruso’s return was going to be a godsend, right? Not exactly. It’s been a bit rocky. His first game back was phenomenal. He finished the game with finished with 11 points, four rebounds and a game-high four steals in just under 30 minutes.

But the next game wasn’t quite great. Caruso’s lineups produced a -11 in that first half, finishing with a -10 for the evening. The next matchup came against the Jazz and his lineups were a -17 overall in another loss. In Friday’s blowout against the Suns, Caruso wasn’t able to bother Devin Booker at all. So what’s going on?

In a recent appearance on JJ Redick’s podcast, “The Old Man and the Three,” Caruso admitted to not being 100% healthy.

"“Yeah, I mean, I’m cleared to play and I’m playing but I’m not 100 percent,” Caruso told Redick. “You couldn’t expect to be after six weeks. There’s rehab that goes with it, getting the strength back. I didn’t shoot a basketball, I didn’t dribble a basketball for five and a half weeks, then you come back in and expect to be shooting 30 footers, that’s not realistic.”"

Prior to his return, the Bulls were on a five-game losing streak and couldn’t defend a parked car. There was constant chatter about the boost from getting role players back from injury, but there wasn’t enough talk about the underlying issues with the team’s effort overall.

Instead, there was an expectation that Caruso, along Patrick Williams and Lonzo Ball when they return, would magically fix the issues hurting the Bulls. But that expectation was never really reasonable. Caruso’s progress through seven weeks was good, but nothing that showed he’d be back at 100% even after a few weeks.

"“The progress I made was like, the first day I was allowed to touch a basketball I shot 50 form shots and I was like, ‘it’s way too painful, I can’t do any more,'” Caruso continued. “Then a week later I could shoot corner 3s, then four days after that it was top of the wing shots. The process of it is just meticulous. There’s a lot more that goes into it than you just sit for six weeks and then you’re back to normal. There’s a whole process of getting the mobility back, getting strength back and then being able to bear contact, bear weight on it.”"

His impact when healthy was clear early in the season, as shown in their hot start. But currently, he’s still recovering in a sense. He’s playing because the Bulls need him, but he’s not his prime self … yet. In the coming weeks, he’ll likely start to resume his full form. Until then, Chicago  will need to find their defensive identity.

In their next games against the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, they’ll have to find a way to limit the perimeter players. Caruso will help but won’t be able to do it all himself. His “premature” return was probably a way to boost morale and give the Bulls similar looks lineup-wise they’d be getting with him in the mix … even if he’s unable to perform to capacity. It’s all about getting the right guys in the right spots, so maybe that’s Billy Donovan’s plan here.