With Avery Bradley not traveling to Florida when the NBA season resumes, this is the moment for Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers.
With news coming out that Avery Bradley will not be heading to Florida once the NBA season resumes, the Los Angeles Lakers have been dealt a knock to their rotation. Make no mistake, Bradley was not a key piece in their quest to win a championship, but he was a veteran guard capable of stepping up and playing some minutes when it really matters.
Given that the depth chart of the Lakers at the guard position isn’t particularly strong either, this only heightens the blow. In Alex Caruso however, the organization has somebody who looks ready-made to step into the void created and may actually end up being a better fit for the stretch run as well.
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Caruso, as a result of his looks and the thinning hair on top, has become something of an internet joke/meme since entering the league. At 5.4 points per contest, he is overlooked by what he can do on the court and instead tends to make national news whenever he performs an unexpected dunk or hits a big shot.
That however is not the real strength of Caruso’s game. Defending is, and it is something which has quietly become very good at. This bodes well for him taking some of the minutes that Bradley would surely have played because he is a closer fit than you might think. Caruso was only averaging 17.8 minutes per game before the season stopped, with Bradley at 24.2 a night.
If you divvy up the minutes of Bradley, Caruso stands to be the main beneficiary, but the Lakers would also likely profit as well. For the season they ranked third in defensive rating (105.5), mostly off the back of the stellar play of Anthony Davis, with some stretches of elite play on that end from LeBron James too.
Neither Caruso nor Bradley is going to be a key difference-maker when compared to those two. But the Lakers do have a defensive rating of 100.3 when Caruso is out there, which is a notable difference made more impressive when you consider he spends a lot of his time on the court with the second unit.
A reserve bunch which does feature the much improved Dwight Howard, but who has a defensive rating himself of 106 despite being the paint protector when he is out there. It’s not all bad with Bradley on the court either, as the Lakers have a rating of 104. But to have a notable decrease in that number for Caruso, despite the smaller sample size given the minutes he plays, is worth talking about.
Elite defensive teams typically win championships, and the Lakers are certainly that right now. Giving Caruso more run may tip their rating in that area even more favorably, which is all you can ask of a player who, regardless of whether Bradley was going to suit up or not, is very much down the rotation.
Offensively the Lakers rank fourth right now (112.6), and as we’ve already mentioned Caruso isn’t likely to help nearly as much in that area. But he may not have to. The open roster spot as a result of Bradley’s departure means that James may be able to turn to some of his former running mates for help in that regard.
Other guys such as Jamal Crawford have been spoken about already as potential pickups for the Lakers and a host of other contenders, and if he makes his way back to the league, which we would all love to see, he surely wouldn’t be helping out with the defensive duties for any roster he played on.
No matter who the Lakers choose to add, they now have an opportunity to create more balance on their roster. Bradley was a cheap and smart choice for their rotation who could play a bunch of regular season minutes before seeing his time on the court regress once the postseason began.
Caruso can do exactly that for the Lakers too, but the organization now isn’t doubling up by having two players of similar skill set that they are trying to fit into what they’re doing. The safe bet would be on Caruso actually getting some meaningful playoff minutes, especially in the first couple of rounds, and actually doing something positive with them.
Finally, and on a more personal note for Caruso, he could use this opportunity to secure a longer-term deal in the not too distant future. Caruso is under contract next season, but if the Lakers fail to win a title in this strange season, it is a safe bet that changes will be made around the edges to try and make them even more formidable. You’d have to think Caruso could be a casualty of that thinking.
Even if he manages to excel in his role once the season resumes, at $2.75 million for 2020-21 before hitting unrestricted free agency, Caruso will be looking to get more money and a longer deal anywhere in the league once his current deal is up. Not taken completely seriously to this point, there is every chance that will be with the Lakers as he proves to them that their defensive stopper at guard was a part of their roster all along.