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Bulls all agree that Caruso's impact goes beyond stats

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DeMar DeRozan paused briefly before answering the question, not so much because he didn’t know what to say but more because he wanted to say it just right.

“Spectacular,” DeRozan finally said.

The question — what’s it like having Alex Caruso as a teammate? — also got posed to Zach LaVine.

“It’s a privilege,” LaVine said.

If you want to fully assess the impact of Caruso, don’t check a box score or even talk to him since Caruso is, in DeRozan’s words, “so humble, so about the team.” Just ask his teammates and coaches.

“He’s such a selfless guy,” Billy Donovan said.

Caruso is averaging 2.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.7 steals and just one turnover over 30 minutes in the three games since he replaced Ayo Dosunmu as the Chicago Bulls’ starting point guard.

But those numbers fail to fully capture Caruso’s full impact.

Whether it’s playing tenacious defense on a wide variety of positions or — like one of his mentors in Rajon Rondo — calling out opposing plays and delegating defensive duties on the fly, Caruso is about winning.

“He changes the whole game,” DeRozan said. “AC could have four points. But take him out of the game and the game is completely different.

“He’s a helluva competitor and a helluva person. It’s hard to find teammates like that. The appreciation he has for the game is such a contagious thing. When you’re around him, you feel that joy.”

As of Thursday morning, Caruso leads the NBA both in total deflections at 95 and deflections per game at 4.0. His assists average, albeit in the small sample size of three games, has jumped nearly three per game now that he’s averaging 30 minutes as a starter rather than 25 minutes as a reserve.

“All the other parts of the game of basketball he gets a lot more enjoyment out of other than shooting and scoring,” Donovan said. “Whether it’s diving on the floor or taking a charge or playing defense or probably the thing he enjoys the most, the passing. He’s got really good vision and can get guys in position where it can make the game easy for them.”

Donovan said before the season and reiterated on Wednesday that keeping Caruso at 30 minutes or less is something of which he’s very mindful. Part of this is because of the intensity level at which Caruso plays. Part of is because of Caruso’s physical style, which lends itself to running into opponents, the hardwood after taking charges, and even the first-row spectators in pursuit of loose balls with equal abandon.

But mostly this is because the Bulls experienced life without Caruso last season. And it wasn’t always pretty.

Caruso, who missed significant time after Grayson Allen fractured his wrist with a flagrant foul, has stayed healthy this season. But his on/off splits underscore his importance.

With Caruso on the floor, the Bulls possess own a net rating of plus-5.1. When he’s off, the Bulls’ net rating drops to minus-6.9.

Too bad he can’t play 48 minutes.

“I do think the minute part for him is important. He obviously expends a lot of energy,” Donovan said. “Long stretches for him, it’s hard for him to maintain that level of intensity. I think you try to find a spot where he can maintain the level of intensity he plays with.”

Caruso's coach-on-the-floor mentality extends to those moments he's on the bench. He's often spotted standing up, calling out opposing sets.

But he's at this best when he's on the floor — both playing and diving for loose balls.

"You know he’s going to sacrifice a lot not just for the team but for you as well. He talks to you throughout the game," LaVine said. "For people who just look at box scores and things like that, his stat line doesn’t show the impact he has on a game. Winning culture. Winning mindset. We appreciate him."

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