In life, you get paid based on production, right?
Not necessarily. As any person who has spent any time in the workforce will tell you, there are always individuals that make more than they worked for, and there are always some poor folks who make less.
Unfortunately, Alex Caruso falls into the latter category. At an annual rate of just over 9 million dollars, a casual observer would look at his contract and presume that he was a below-average to middle-of-the-road contributor.
However, dig deeper, and you will see that Caruso’s value far exceeds the dollar amount listed on his bi-weekly checks.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Chicago Bulls Efficiency Differential per 100 possessions is nearly ten points better with Caruso on the floor – an improvement that ranks in the 93rd percentile.
This on/off impact bears resemblance to the newly-inducted Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili, who posted similar Efficiency Differentials in almost every season from 2004-12 (per Cleaning the Glass).
But more than their on/off impact (and Italian heritage), the two guards share the same wild style. You see, both Caruso and Ginobili play basketball with the same degree of reckless abandon. They never hesitate in their decision-making, take calculated risks that only they seem to see, and are fully prepared to sacrifice their bodies on any given possession.
Today, Caruso alters the entire landscape of the court with his presence on defense. He’s a fierce on-ball defender, regularly matching up against the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
But because of the impressive shot-making that is commonplace in today’s NBA, there is a limit to how much value you can provide as a man defender. Even if your technique is perfect, there is a solid chance the offensive player buries a jumper right in your face.
To avoid that possibility altogether, Caruso has become a master of defensive playmaking. Steals, blocks, deflections, charges, all these things are ways to circumvent the process of man defense. An offensive player can’t score if they never get to take a shot in the first place.
Thanks to his monster defensive playmaking totals, he’s a darling of defensive one-number metrics, ranking in the top-seven in nearly all of the widely cited catch-all statistics that are available to the general public.
He’s not just a stat padder, either. As we alluded to in the opening, the Bulls’ defense improves when Caruso graces the hardwood. When he’s on the floor, Chicago’s defensive rating is 109.9. That mark is the exact same defensive rating of the number-one ranked defense in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies (per Cleaning the Glass).
And mind you, Ginobili wasn’t a one-dimensional player. During his prime, the San Antonio Spurs were typically a better defensive team with him on the floor. The same can be said of Caruso and the Bulls’ offense.
With Caruso, Chicago’s offense is +3.2 points better per 100 possessions (72nd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass). And while he’s not a gaudy volume scorer, he’s an underrated passer (scoring a 7.2 out of 10 in Ben Taylor’s Passer Rating metric) and a capable spot-up three-point shooter (39.6% on threes this year). The perfect player to amplify Chicago’s three-headed offensive machine in DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic.
Despite his Hall of Fame selection, Ginobili was still underappreciated for much of his career. His on-court performance points to that of a bonafide star, and yet, he only had two All-Star appearances to show for it.
Let’s not make the same mistake with Caruso and recognize his splendor while we can (he better be on your All-Defensive team ballot!). But even if we don’t, he’ll keep chugging along just the same, as one of the most uniquely impactful per-minute players in the entire NBA.