Alex Caruso

Bulls Q&A: Alex Caruso talks All-Defense honor, toughest covers and why he plans to be more ‘selfish'

Heart and soul of top-5 defense reveals his offseason approach in bid to repeat honor

Alex Caruso earned his first selection to the NBA's All-Defense team last season.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- In case you’re wondering, Alex Caruso doesn’t do defense during the offseason.

“That’s my joke with everybody too,” Caruso said in an interview following Thursday’s practice at Belmont University. “I don’t play defense until I have to.”

In May, Caruso earned his first nod to the NBA’s All-Defense team, a first-team selection to boot. He sat down with NBC Sports Chicago to discuss that honor, what’s next and why he’s going to try to be more “selfish” this season.

This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

NBC Sports Chicago: What did that All-Defense honor mean to you?

Alex Caruso: That was pretty cool. It definitely was a goal. The first team is tough. You can’t luck into that. That’s a real accomplishment in this league, especially the way the game is played now where there’s so much emphasis on offense and space. I was pretty proud of that. And it was just cool because to get on one of those teams, you have to sacrifice a lot, mentally and physically. Show up every night and take on the challenge of guarding the best players in the league. And I thought it was pretty gratifying because the year before I felt like I was on the way to having consideration for one of those teams. And obviously, I missed half the season so that was out the window. So it was great.

So what’s next when you hit a goal like that? Is it just repeating?

You gotta do it again, yeah.

Defensive Player of the Year?

The way DPOY is kind of voted on and based off of now is the interior has the upper hand on that just because of blocks and rebounds. I probably don’t have enough of those to be under consideration. But you never know. I might have an incredible year.

How do you work on defense in the offseason?

I don’t. I don’t play defense until I have to. That’s my joke with everybody too. I’ll work out. I guess conditioning and lifting are kind of geared toward defense. But I don’t do closeouts, slides, any of that in the offseason. Even when I play pickup, I’m not playing any defense. It takes a lot of mental concentration to do that for 82 games.

What about film work?

A lot of that is in-season stuff. If guys make adjustments to their game, you can’t see it until they start playing again. I still remember everything as far as what guys like to do. That’s not stuff that leaves you when you care about your craft and care about the game and are trying to win. I watch the playoffs. But once that’s over, offseason is clearing the slate and getting ready to go again.

Do you like how the NBA instituted a minimum game requirement of 65 games to be considered for postseason awards?

Yeah, I guess so. I think they pretty much factor that in (voting) anyway. You gotta put yourself out there to garner the awards.

Last season, keeping you healthy was such a franchise priority and you played a career-high in games. Obviously, you need some luck to stay healthy. But how confident are you that you again can stay vital for this season?

You talk about progressions and routines a lot. And I think one thing for me is I’m always trying to get better. I think every year I’ve played in the league, I’ve gotten better. And that’s something I pride myself on and I have to put that goal out there for myself to chase. So this year, I’m trying to chase that again---play more minutes, play more games, work on my prep before practices and games, recovery, nutrition, sleep. Just being dedicated to that and improve that as much as I want to improve my 3-point percentage or my minutes-per-game or my assists percentage.

You’ll be out there a lot regardless and likely in most closing lineups. But why is there no talk of you starting at either point guard or power forward since you’ve played both?

The power forward one is not my favorite. It took a toll on me the second half. It was rough. That’s one of the added benefits I think I bring to a team. I feel I’m pretty unselfish. And I’ve talked to Billy (Donovan) and some of the assistants about being more selfish at times. It’s almost putting a burden on the team when I’m not selfish at times, when I pass up shots or pass up opportunities to be aggressive or to speak up. So this starting stuff is what it is. I’d rather play late in the game than early in the game. When it counts, I want to be on the court.

Who are your toughest covers?

I get that question all the time from people I meet or guys I work out with randomly who I see for the first time. There are literally 20 names I could give you. This is how I describe it: If I follow the game plan and play really good defense, the best guys in the league---the 1-2 punches like DeMar (DeRozan) and Zach (LaVIne) for us---are still going to get their average. There’s just that much volume, transition, switches, so many opportunities. If I don’t do my job, they’ll go for 40 or 50. So you take your pick any night for toughest cover. Anybody who’s an All-Star and there are even some guys who come off the bench and average 20 a night. Jordan Clarkson is a good example. Jordan Clarkson is one of the harder guys to guard in the league because he can shoot from outside, he can shoot from midrange, he can get fouled. Makes good reads off counters. There are just so many guys in the league these days who are so skilled. There’s not one answer. There are the obvious ones, Steph (Curry), KD (Kevin Durant), LeBron (James), Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell. Those two last year, I thought Book and Donovan Mitchell were really motivated because of the situations the teams had. It’s a really long list.

I’m curious: How did the play-in loss to Miami sit with you as you watched the playoffs unfold?

The playoffs are so matchup-based and Jimmy (Butler) was going crazy in that first round against the Bucks. That propelled them. Who knows what would’ve happened if we had won that game? I thought we played so well. It was almost the opposite of Toronto where I thought Toronto played better than us for 2 ½, 3 quarters and then we kind of won the game late. I thought we played better than Miami for the majority of that game and it was a better matchup for us. We had won the season series. And then they just made more plays and more shots down the stretch. Basketball is a make-or-miss league. But I don’t think back to that game as much as I do to four or five games during the season that we should’ve won. We should beat the teams that are under .500, definitely at home. And then you’re not even in the play-in game. And that didn’t sit well with me as I tried to sleep at night.

What do you think the additions of Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig can do for you?

We’ve already seen it. There was one play in practice today where me and Ayo (Dosunmu) got a stop and then Torrey got a block and Jevon got a strip and we got another stop. If we have me and Ayo and Drum (Andre Drummond) on that second unit and we add those two pieces, it’s going to be hard to get a good shot off against that second unit if we’re locked in. Once we do, we have multiple ballhandlers and can break out and run a little bit. I’m excited. They fit really well for the mentality that me and Ayo and Drum have played with the last couple years.

I have to ask: What’s the golf handicap these days?

It's a 6 probably right now. I got it down to a 3 or a 2.9 in July. I was playing a lot.

Do I have to refer to you as first-team All-Defense selection Alex Caruso every time I write about you now?

If you’d like to, yeah, that’d be nice. (laughs)

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us