Los Angeles Lakers: Alex Caruso is the best role player in the NBA

Dec 18, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) reacts against the Phoenix Suns during a preseason game at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) reacts against the Phoenix Suns during a preseason game at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

On Saturday night, the 5-18 Detroit Pistons tried to tilt the basketball world off its axis by nearly beating the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers for the second time this season. Luckily, LeBron James hit two three-pointers in the second overtime to seal a victory for the Purple and Gold, ensuring the NBA universe remained in balance.

Shannon Sharpe will probably wear his goat mask and shout out, “LeBron James is the MVP,” while Skip Bayless rolls his eyes and says, “If LeBron is the real MVP, he wouldn’t have let the lowly Pistons take the Lakers to double overtime.”

Good or bad, the major networks will focus their attention on LBJ. Nobody will talk about the way Alex Caruso pumped life into the Lakers during the first overtime. Nobody will mention that without Caruso’s under-the-radar heroics, LeBron James never would have had the chance to play superman during the second overtime. Nobody will say anything about Alex Caruso.

Here at Lake Show Life, we aren’t part of the national media. We watch every minute of every Lakers game, and we see how important Alex Caruso has become.

Halfway through the first overtime, the Lakers trailed the Pistons 110-106, and the Purple and Gold’s closing unit of Davis, James, Schroder, Caldwell-Pope, and Caruso looked flatfooted, a team ready to give in. That’s when Alex Caruso worked his magic.

First, he caught an out-of-bounds pass from LeBron for a layup and a foul at the rim, a traditional three-point play, pulling the Lakers within one point. The next play down Pistons center, Mason Plumlee, returned the favor with a three-point play of his own in the lane.

The Lakers were down by four points again — that didn’t faze Alex Caruso. On the Lakers’ next possession, he stood calmly beyond the arc and faked a pass to LeBron James before hitting a three-pointer, steadily dragging the Lakers back from the dead, helping push the Purple and Gold to the second overtime and the eventual win at the hands of LeBron James.

One key to being a great role player is knowing your role, knowing you’re not a superstar, keeping your ego and ambitions in check, and doing whatever it takes to help your squad win. Alex Caruso doesn’t care about making headlines.

He’s as humble as a professional athlete can be. It’s that lack of ego that allows him to stay within the confines of his role on the Lakers; it’s one of the many reasons he’s the best role player in the NBA.

Going beyond attitude, Alex Caruso’s traditional stats (6 PPG, 2 RPG, and 2 APG) crawl off the screen and squeak, “Bit player.” But that’s why in this modern version of the NBA, we care more about advanced stats than box scores, and AC is an advanced stat stud.

In 2021, Alex Caruso has been one of the best clutch performers (5 minutes left, and the score is within 5 points) in the NBA. AC’s second in the association in clutch +/- rating at 4.6 (minimum five games played to remove any outlier noise), and he’s connecting on 100 percent of his three-point attempts during clutch time situations.

On the other side of the ball, the Lakers are first in the association in defensive rating, and Frank Vogel turns to Caruso to shut down the opposing squad’s best perimeter option at the end of games, making AC one of the premier defensive closers in the game.

Nobody’s saying Alex Caruso is the best clutch player in the NBA; that title is reserved for superstars like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant. We’re saying Alex Caruso is the best clutch role player in the NBA.

Overall on defense, Alex Caruso is third in the NBA in defensive rating at 98.4 (15 minutes per game and at least ten games played). AC’s not a ball of pent up defensive energy like KCP, and he doesn’t have elite athleticism like Dennis Schroder.

Caruso’s more of a cerebral defender. He uses his basketball IQ and knowledge of Frank Vogel’s defensive schemes with his surprising strength and quick lateral movement to hound his assignment.

Despite Alex Caruso’s impressive defensive metrics, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, and Ben Simmons are better individual perimeter defenders. They don’t have the advanced defensive stats that Alex Caruso can claim because they control their respective team’s offensive destiny.

They are two-way players who can’t expend the energy on the less glamorous side of the ball that AC can. Still, Caruso’s a top-10 perimeter defender in the NBA, and his ability to go full throttle on defense—to disrupt, bother, and harangue—makes him the best defensive role player in the association.

Alex Caruso can’t run an offense, he can’t get to the rack at will, and he can’t break a defender down at the end of the shot clock, but that’s not his role on the Lakers. AC’s not an All-Star, and he’ll probably never be one. Caruso’s a role player through and through.

And he plays his role on offense as a floor-spacing guard to perfection; AC’s become one of the best long-distance shooters in the association. Alex Caruso currently sits 15th in the NBA in three-point shooting at a clean 48 percent, and his hot to start the 2021 season doesn’t seem to be a blip either. Caruso’s stroke looks clean, and he shoots with confidence.

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the indispensable engines that drive the Lakers, but Alex Caruso has become crucial to the Purple and Gold in his own right as the league’s best role player.