If there is ever a player who consistently positively impacts a Chicago Bulls game, that player is Alex Caruso. Caruso signed a 4-year, $37 million contract with the Bulls last year, an absolute bargain of a deal considering the impact he can have on both ends of the floor. While he won’t typically pour in buckets on offense, he’s a capable facilitator and an absolute lock-down defender, often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Caruso has always been known as a “dog” on defense. If you need someone to clamp down on the opposition’s top scorer, Caruso is your guy. He’s a gutsy and fearless defender, willing to put his body on the line and sacrifice more spotlight-style contributions on offense to ensure his match-up scores as little as possible. In fact, for much of his career, Caruso has been seen as the “pest” on defense – not that great on offense but incredibly scrappy and someone you’re likely to see taking charges and diving on the floor for loose balls.
But over the last two seasons, Caruso’s game has definitely gotten more attention. Maybe it’s because he’s playing on a team that doesn’t have a mega-star like LeBron James casting his shadow over every other player. Maybe it’s because this Chicago Bulls team as constructed allows him to shine more on defense. Whatever the reason, there’s a solid argument to be made that Caruso is one of the best defenders in the NBA and deserving of some hardware for his trophy case.
This season has been defined by mediocrity for the Chicago Bulls. One player who has defied that label has been Alex Caruso, a standout defender.
I wrote earlier in the season about the Chicago Bulls’ slow start offensively but noted that their defensive rating was still the best in the East. Much of that is due to Caruso’s impact on the team. To compare Caruso’s defensive dominance with his teammates and the rest of the NBA, I took Dribble Analytics’ DAVIS metric (Defensive Average Value below Ideal Stats) and ran through some of this season’s data. What the DAVIS metric attempts to do is compute the distance each player’s defensive stats are from the league leader’s. This should help us better compare players to each other when it comes to defensive performance.
The DAVIS scores are normalized for every player in the NBA and aren’t adjusted on a per-minute basis, so certain players are going to stand out way more from the rest of the crowd. For example, the DAVIS model absolutely loves, Jaren Jackson, Jr., who has a .94 DAVIS rating (1 is the absolute best, most perfect defender). Nic Claxton comes in second, with a DAVIS rating of .73.
But guess who’s third…. none other than Alex Caruso, with a DAVIS rating of .54, despite playing fewer minutes than either Jackson Jr. or Claxton. 40 points away from the DAVIS metric leader may seem like a huge gap, but Jackson and Caruso play different positions. Amongst eligible guards, Caruso is far and away the top defender.
The metrics definitely back up what your eyes will tell you if you watch Caruso play. He constantly harasses the opposition’s best player and can guard multiple positions on the court. As much as it would be painful to part with him, the Bulls may be able to get a decent return for the defensive pest. Mediocrity has been the theme of this Chicago Bulls season, but at least Alex Caruso has been a pretty stellar bright spot for the team. For however long he remains a Bull, I’ll continue to enjoy watching him pressure opponents into terrible shot selection.