New Bulls guard Alex Caruso’s championship pedigree is apparent
Caruso had the highest plus-minus for a Bulls reserve in the preseason, and it’s not a coincidence, considering where he came from and who his mentor was. The LeBron James influence is real, and Caruso hopes his teammates feel that.
Championship pedigree usually travels well.
There are always outliers — NBA players fresh off title runs who join new teams and are met with high expectations, only to see them doused because of injuries or dysfunction — but for the most part, having your hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy eventually will leave a mark on new teammates.
The sample size is small, but the Bulls already are prospering from Alex Caruso’s influence.
Whether it’s because of his no-look passes or his dirty work on defense, Caruso has become a fan favorite at the United Center and has been praised for his leadership and IQ by his teammates.
The latest example came in the preseason finale against the Grizzlies when Caruso was telling teammates what Memphis’ inbounds play was going to be and where to go. That led to a jump ball and the Bulls stealing the possession.
“[Caruso] does that in practice, he does it . . . he’s a big talker,’’ guard Zach LaVine said. “I like it.’’
What’s not to like?
Playing alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles left an indelible mark on Caruso. He saw how James prepared for even the smallest details of an opposing team’s game plan. Then factor in the always-high expectations for James’ Lakers, and you can clearly see where Caruso is coming from.
That’s why he showered James with so much praise.
“Anytime LeBron is on your team, you’re playing for a championship,’’ Caruso said. “It’s not a secret. If he’s on your team, it’s pretty much like you go to the Finals and try to win a championship. If you don’t win it, it’s kind of a failure.
“That’s kind of the ridiculous status quo that he has put upon himself after so many years of success. Just being around that kind of atmosphere, day in and day out, and being around older guys who have been around the league and won championships like LeBron, Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, you could just see there was a different type of mantra to them. How they carried themselves, how they competed, how they played. It was something I was just fortunate to be a part of.’’
Maybe that’s why the Bulls looked a bit Showtime-ish during an undefeated preseason. The starting five obviously played well, but Caruso stood out in his bench role, finishing with a plus-54, by far the highest of all the reserves.
With the Bulls opening the regular season Wednesday in Detroit, it will be interesting to see how coach Billy Donovan uses Caruso, especially late in games.
Could Caruso close games in a three-guard attack because of his defense? Will Donovan make him a key fixture when the Bulls go small in certain matchups?
Those are questions only the regular season will answer.
But there are no questions regarding Caruso’s impact.
“He’s a great communicator,’’ Donovan said. “He sees things before they happen. He’s got a great voice, he really does. He’s really smart, he’s tough, he does all the little things and also I think the one thing I also respect about him is he really holds himself to a high standard of accountability.
“When he’s making mistakes or not doing things he knows he should be doing out there, he’s the first one who’s on himself. He’s always thinking about things to help the group.’’