Alex Caruso

Bulls Q&A: Alex Caruso talks improved 3-point shooting, guarding big wings, All-Defense team chances

Gritty guard a lock to repeat postseason honors if he meets 65-game minimum requirement

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

SACRAMENTO, Calif. --- Alex Caruso doesn’t take victory laps. He’s always looking to improve, always searching for his next challenge.

This is, after all, a player who won an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers and understands the play-in positioning for which the Chicago Bulls are currently vying.

Perhaps more tellingly, he also consistently qualifies any attempts at big picture answers about his individual play this season with the caveat that a quarter of the season remains.

Against that established backdrop, Caruso, who is a lock to repeat on the NBA’s All-Defensive team should he meet the new 65-game minimum, did engage in the following question-and-answer session. It occurred following Monday’s morning shootaround at Golden 1 Center and before his standard game-day meal of pancakes and an omelette with pesto pasta to go for after his midday nap.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

NBC Sports Chicago: What stands out to you about your play when you review your season to this point?

Alex Caruso: I think my aggressiveness offensively has improved. Like, I don’t think there’s any hesitation on trying to make the right play. I’m just kind of playing. If the shot is there, the shot is there. If the drive is there, the drive is there. I’m not hesitating.

And then for the most part, being available for the guys. Especially this year, we’ve had so many guys miss significant time and I’ve only missed a handful of games.

We’ve talked about your offensive aggressiveness before. Did you think your offseason work would lead to this sustained success?

Yeah, I think so. I talked about it during the preseason, and throughout the year. I worked really hard this summer and consistently. I took a couple vacations but other than that, I was working out in Austin and playing golf. That’s it. I kind of expected to play this way.

I think the numbers even might look a little better if I didn’t play the way I did and so recklessly on defense. It’s hard shooting the ball with a strained thumb and messed-up feet. Sometimes I wish the offensive numbers showed more improvement because of how good I feel at that end. But sometimes, some sacrifice comes with the job that I do for this team.

Did you have a statistical goal for 3-point percentage or volume?

I think 40 (percent) is the goal. There wasn’t a number for the volume, but I don’t even know if I’ve ever averaged 3 3-pointers a game. And for this team, we have a lot of guys who shoot two-pointers. So I needed to shoot more 3s. I think I’m closer to something like 4 or 4.5, so that’s an improved number. It could probably even be a little higher, but some nights, like I said, I’ve had to sacrifice a bit offensively because of how my body is feeling.

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it does seem like every game, you’re grimacing at some point after swiping down hard to strip the ball from somebody or something like that. Is that what you mean?

I’m not talking about like just spraining a finger. That’s pretty normal. I had a strained tendon in my right thumb for most of January and February and there were a couple games where I almost couldn’t push off on my thumb. And it was frustrating because I still had to take shots. But it didn’t feel good at all. And I kind of knew they weren’t going to go in at the same rate I had been accustomed to---like the 40, 45 percent I had been shooting. I was closer to the high 20s or low 30s.

But at the end of the day, I’m trying to win games. So I couldn’t care about personal statistics; I still had to take the right shots. All the numbers don’t matter if we don’t win games.

[Editor’s note: Caruso entered Monday’s game shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range on career-high volume of 4.4 attempts per game. His previous career-high of 3.1 attempts per game came in 2021-22, his first season in Chicago. His 3-point shooting splits by month are as follows: October, 36.4 percent; November, 50 percent; December, 42.5 percent; January, 35.3 percent; February, 26.5 percent.]

That said, do you think this is your best all-around individual season?

We’re only 75 percent of the way through. We have to finish strong for this to be a completed sentence. But to this point, I think it’s up there. I think offensively it’s probably my best. I think the numbers show that. I think I’m close to 10 points a game. And I’m pretty sure I’m close to 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Defensively, it’s been different for me. I’ve been guarding big wings or posts a lot more rather than lead guards. In turn, I have more blocks than I ever have and about the same for steals. That’s been a unique challenge defensively.

What are your views on the 65-game minimum needed for major postseason awards, including All-Defense teams?

I see both sides. If some guy plays 63 games but has been the best two guard or center in the league for the whole season, it’s going to be a point of conversation. I think for the most part, it’s unlucky injuries that will keep guys off. And it sucks because for those guys who are making All-NBA teams or trying to go for MVPs, there’s some type of legacy that goes into it. For me, I’m going to make a couple All-Defense teams in my career and that will be the extent of it. I don’t perceive me making All-NBA or MVP running. I’m sure like anything, the first couple years of it will be controversial and there will be different point of views. And maybe a handful of years from now, they’ll figure out a way to make it work for everybody.

But that said, making All-Defense is very important to you and you’re going to be close on hitting the 65-game minimum?

[Editor’s note: Players must play at least 20 minutes in 65 games to qualify, although two games of just 15 or more minutes can qualify. Entering Monday, Caruso needs to play at least 20 minutes in 19 of remaining 22 games to qualify.]

It’s important to me. But at the end of the day, I know I’m one of the best defenders in the league, whether it’s recognized or not. It would be cool, obviously. And making first-team last year, I was pretty proud of that. I think having the respect of the guys I play against and the guys I battle against every night telling me that they enjoy playing against me because it’s a challenge and it’s competitive, that’s just as important as having a first- or second-team All-Defense award.

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