Bulls need Alex Caruso healthy this season, but less of him may be more

Caruso’s playing style is hard to change at this point in his career, but the combo guard’s all-out, run-through-a-wall mentality could be controlled by minutes. As the last three seasons have shown, wins come more frequently when Caruso’s workload is less per game.

SHARE Bulls need Alex Caruso healthy this season, but less of him may be more
The Bulls need Alex Caruso to be disruptive and play a hard-nosed style, but they also need him to stay healthy.

The Bulls need Alex Caruso to be disruptive and play a hard-nosed style, but they also need him to stay healthy.

Morry Gash/AP

There will be a plan in place to try to keep Bulls guard Alex Caruso as healthy as possible this season — crash helmet not included.

That’s because Caruso’s playing style too often is better suited for a gladiator arena than the hardwood. With that comes collateral damage. Unfortunately, it has come at Caruso’s expense far too often.

A quick glance at his injury report since 2020 reads like an anatomy class. There’s a neck, then a wrist, then a few days in the health-and-safety protocols, then a hand, then a concussion.

In Caruso’s first year with the Bulls, he was dinged with wrist, ankle and hamstring injuries during the first half of the season. But the big injury setback was a fractured right wrist, courtesy of Bucks guard Grayson Allen deciding to tackle him in midair.

Caruso eventually returned, only to suffer a concussion in Game 4 of the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against the Bucks. He was sidelined for Game 5, when the Bulls were sent home for an extended spring break.

So what’s the solution? That’s where it gets tricky.

The Bulls need Caruso to be disruptive and play a hard-nosed style, especially because they have so many high-priced players who don’t necessarily do so all the time. But they also need him to stay healthy and active in the rotation.

What Caruso can do is to armor himself up with a little more muscle. That’s what this summer has been about for him.

‘‘Just trying to gain a little weight, a little muscle on the lower extremities, a little bit on my back,’’ Caruso told NBC Sports this month. ‘‘And then just, you know, grinding on my game. I’ve been in the gym [for the] last month, month and a half.’’

What the Bulls and coach Billy Donovan can do is control his playing time. Load management isn’t in Caruso’s vocabulary, so forget trying to get him to sit out games. If he’s healthy, he’s playing. But what the Bulls found out last season was that, because he plays so hard, less from Caruso in terms of minutes was actually more.

When Caruso was healthy and playing, he averaged 27.5 minutes in games the Bulls won and 28.6 minutes in those they lost. It was like that with the Lakers during the 2020-21 and 2019-20 seasons, too.

A statistical anomaly? Unlikely, especially when you watch game film. Caruso is a high-energy player on both ends of the floor and plays with a fiery edge. But that fire only burns so long.

That’s one reason the Bulls’ drafting of Dalen Terry in June made sense. Like Caruso, Terry is a high-energy defender who doesn’t mind playing the role of irritant. He is expected to earn a spot in the rotation, and maybe three or four of his minutes will come at the expense of Caruso’s playing time.

Either way, Caruso not only is hoping that he can stay healthy but also that the entire roster can do so. He saw enough last season to know a healthy Bulls roster can be a dangerous one.

‘‘I don’t know if we got to see our full potential,’’ Caruso said. ‘‘Having as many guys as we did having to miss as many games, Lonzo [Ball] not being able to come back and play in the playoffs . . . just big pieces that hurt the symmetry, the chemistry, the ability to build habits throughout the season.

‘‘But I think we’re a really good team with some really good pieces that I think has a chance to be really special if we can put the work in and get to where we need to get to.’’

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