Bulls coaching staff pushing Alex Caruso to be a three-point threat

Playing defense has always been a part of Caruso’s DNA since he landed in the NBA, but for this new-look Bulls offense to work at a high efficiency he also has to now be an aggressive long-range shooter.

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Alex Caruso

Being aggressive offensively against Denver on Thursday was a good first step for Alex Caruso as his coaching staff tries to change his mentality.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Bulls guard Alex Caruso admits he hasn’t fully embraced his new role yet.

In his mind, he is a predator defensively, looking to ruin the evening for opposing offenses. The hunter, not the hunted.

But for coach Billy Donovan’s new-look offense to reach the level of efficiency it must, Caruso has to change his mentality — or at least alter it a bit. He must be willing to shoot first on the offensive end and ask questions later.

The Bulls’ preseason victory Thursday against the Nuggets in double-overtime was a good first step.

After taking only one shot in the Bulls’ loss to the Bucks in their preseason opener Sunday, Caruso — who was named All-Defensive first team last season — followed that up with a 4-for-6 showing from three-point range against the defending champs.

Now it needs to have staying power.

‘‘You go back and look at things from the previous season, and we have got to take shots when they’re there,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I think Alex is somebody that’s very conscientious about the team, very conscientious about winning, and I think Alex has worked hard to become a better shooter. But, like anybody, you miss two or three shots, and you feel like you don’t want to do something that’s detrimental. But it’s not. We need him to take those shots.’’

Caruso made it clear he had a lot of time to work on his shooting during the offseason.

‘‘Just got a lot of [shots] up, got a lot of reps up,’’ he said. ‘‘Different scenarios where I was professional and consistent with it throughout the summer. We had a long summer because we didn’t make the playoffs, so I had a lot of time.’’

But he also knows he needed to change his mentality. That’s why he has had numerous talks with Donovan and his player-development coaches about the fine line between being aggressive and hurting the Bulls with a bad shot.

‘‘That’s probably going to be a fight for anybody, maybe outside of, like, 10 guys in the league that just have an arrogant confidence about them every night, [even] if it’s not going your way,’’ Caruso said. ‘‘But I had a good conversation with Billy. It’s almost selfish of me when I don’t take the ones that I need to take. I’m such an unselfish guy, trying to give back to the team. But a lot of times, if I don’t take the shot and be aggressive in those situations, then it is me being selfish against the team. Just trying to recognize those opportunities, and I thought I did a good job of that [Thursday].’’

Donovan agreed, especially considering Caruso’s shooting effort came in just more than 15 minutes of playing time.

In all likelihood, there will be many nights Caruso will be in the closing lineup because of his ability to cause chaos on defense. And Donovan wants to make sure he’s a threat offensively, not just an unguarded decoy.

‘‘Those are high-quality shots, and sometimes you are not going to get a better look than that,’’ Donovan said of Caruso’s shot selection against the Nuggets. ‘‘When they’re there, take ’em.

‘‘Listen, 82 games, he’s going to [have] a game when he has a really poor shooting night, and he’s going to have a game — like [Thursday] — when he has a great shooting night. The big thing is just sticking with it and taking them when they’re there.’’

Donovan also pointed out that Caruso has been a good three-point shooter in his career.

Before signing with the Bulls for the 2021-22 season, he shot 40.1% from three-point range for the Lakers the season before. He made 36.4% of his three-pointers last season.

It’s not the form or ability; it’s the mindset.

‘‘I think the ball dictates the offense for us,’’ Caruso said. ‘‘[On Thursday], I was open, like, five times, and one of them was a last-second shot that I had to kind of just get up. But the other ones were kind of rhythm through the offense. If I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. You have to carry the threat for everything to work.

‘‘Whoever gets that chance, they just have to be ready and prepared to take it.’’

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