What Bulls guard Alex Caruso does is often imitated, never duplicated

Caruso was still dealing with a right shoulder issue that kept him sidelined Wednesday, but Bulls coach Billy Donovan discussed what the guard does defensively that makes him so elite, and why it’s hard for teammates to copy.

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The Bulls’ Alex Caruso collides with Milwaukee’s Jordan Nwora during a game in October.

The Bulls’ Alex Caruso collides with Milwaukee’s Jordan Nwora during a game in October.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The defensive numbers state the obvious when it comes to guard Alex Caruso.

He’s still one of the better defenders on the Bulls with his 110 defensive rating, but it’s more than just numbers. Coach Billy Donovan was trying to convey that message Wednesday with Caruso sidelined.

“I think he’s huge because besides on the ball, his disruption there, he can see things happening as they’re in progress,’’ Donovan said. “He can anticipate it and do things to kind of take things away. A lot of it is his physicality in recognizing screens that are coming at him or toward him, that he can kind of beat the guy to the screen, blow it up, get physical. Some of our younger guys, they see [screens] coming, and it’s too late, and they’re trailing the play.’’

So if Caruso’s tactics can be seen on film — clips that Donovan admittedly has cut for the team to watch — why don’t veterans such as Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan try to mimic them a bit more? 

Donovan said the effort has been there, but it takes more than will to do what Caruso does. You need a high IQ and awareness to defend like that.

“Does Alex Caruso watch Zach LaVine shoot the ball?’’ Donovan said. ‘‘There are just certain things where it’s just instinctive, and I don’t know if a lot of guys can instinctively make a play like that. [Caruso] can see it and do it really quickly. It’s just a talent that he has.

“DeMar can recognize stuff; Zach can recognize stuff. With those guys, we’ve got to have more of a presence on the ball. We get hurt when there’s not a presence on the ball. If there’s one thing you’d recognize with Alex, it’s his presence on the ball with the screening action and his physicality. I think that’s an area we can all get better at.’’

So when can the Bulls count on getting their top defender back?

The good news was Caruso was out of the concussion protocol and went through a light scrimmage. The issue, however, remained a sprained right shoulder.

Donovan said that he was able to go through full basketball activity, but the medical staff still had reservations about his style of play leading to another slam in the shoulder and an even longer setback.

The Bulls already have tried to be careful with his workload this season, but they also have to be able to take Caruso off the leash.

Donovan said the last thing they would ask of him would be to change his playing style.

“He’s gotta be who he is,’’ Donovan said. “If we’re telling him, ‘Hey, Alex, don’t play as hard and physical,’ then you’re taking a guy and his greatest strengths and making him into a very mediocre player. I would never do that.’’

Green returns

Forward Javonte Green was back in a rotation spot against the Bucks after missing eight of the last 11 games with a sore right knee. He is on a minutes restriction.

Forward Derrick Jones Jr. was still out with a sprained left ankle.

Jones suffered the injury in Miami last week and hasn’t played since.

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