NEW YORK — Hollywood was lukewarm on Alex Caruso’s act.
It loved the guy, respected his hustle, but Los Angeles is lights, camera, action. It’s Magic, LeBron and Showtime.
Wearing a headband and diving on the hardwood just to deflect a ball will get more than a golf clap, but that doesn’t exactly move the needle.
Bring that same hustle, however, to the Midwest, where that lunch-pail and hard-hat culture still thrives, and you’ve got a blockbuster on your hands with Caruso as the leading man.
“Maybe . . . I don’t know,’’ Caruso said when asked Friday if his style of play is appreciated more outside L.A. “I just feel like a lot of times playing on the West Coast for four years, specifically the last two, the Lakers get thrown into the media regardless. So sometimes people may think it’s fool’s gold or just another headline or highlight instead of actually paying attention to the game. Maybe they’re just finally being enlightened to how I actually play.’’
Caruso’s style was summed up best in one word by Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.
“Disruptive,’’ Thibodeau said after Caruso’s latest performance in the Bulls’ 119-115 victory Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Irritant, stopper, pest are other words Thibodeau could’ve employed.
Against the Knicks, Caruso scored only six points but had four steals and a huge deflection that led to Zach LaVine’s late-game free throws and even got Taj Gibson so incensed with his defense that the former Bull lost his cool and was ejected.
Caruso was dominant in his own way, finishing with a plus-21 rating. The closest Bulls — LaVine and Nikola Vucevic — were a plus-7.
“He’s a dog, man,’’ forward DeMar DeRozan said. “There are times we look at the stat sheet after games, and he’s like four or five steals. Just the energy he brings defensively, it triggers us because we try to live up to the standards that Alex is going to bring out there on the court. It’s incredible, the things that he does defensively. If Shaquille [O’Neal] was playing, he would try to go out there and figure out how to guard him.’’
“He might get a steal,’’ LaVine chipped in.
He just might.
Caruso entered Friday leading the NBA in steals at 2.3 per game. Among the top 10, he was the only one playing less than 30 minutes per game. He also leads the NBA in deflections per game at 3.9 (tied with Dejounte Murray) and total deflections with 85.
His numbers might be up from his last few seasons with the Lakers, but his game is the same. So why all the recognition now?
“To be candid, probably just because it was on the West Coast, and nobody stays up to watch those games,’’ Caruso said. “The stuff that I do isn’t always glamorous. It doesn’t always get highlighted. You might have seen a dunk or two over the years, like a pass to LeBron [James] or [Anthony Davis], but the stuff I do isn’t sexy. It’s stuff that wins basketball games.
“What I love doing is playing and winning basketball games, so for me, getting recognition, not getting recognition is not going to change how I live my life, how I play the game, how I interact with people on the team, my family. So people love making a big deal out of it, but for me, it’s really just playing basketball.’’
That’s why award talk, such as All-Defensive honors, can wait.
“Yeah, I mean, we’re all human; we’d like to be rewarded for things we do well,’’ Caruso said. “Specifically, doing jobs that are hard to do, but there’s a lot of season. I’ve got to do it for another 75% of these games, and there’s 60 games or so, so maybe we’ll talk about it a little bit more in depth when the time comes.
‘‘But for now, if I start thinking about that, then I kind of get away from what brings me so much success, which is what I talked about — kind of staying present and trying to win each possession.’’