Some players watch film and steal or mimic moves to improve their offensive game.
Alex Caruso does so to better his defensive mojo.
“You see guys that try new moves, but a lot of times it’s really just from guys from the 80s and 90s who did it first. So I just try to figure out different ways to pickpocket guys,” Caruso said. “I can’t remember who it was that I got this one from, but when a defender beats you off the dribble, everyone knows the traditional slap down where you get the ball. But if the offensive player is in front of you, reaching between his arms and scooping them down, that was something I saw last year on film that I didn’t have in my game yet.
“There was another one where it’s like a wraparound, where a guy goes off a screen and you can pull the ball from the inside. There are just different things that I’ve seen guys do on film where I’m like, ‘Oh, I should try that.’”
This is the preparation and attention to detail that Caruso brings to the defensive end for the Chicago Bulls.
Before multiple injuries sidetracked his season, the most serious of which — a fractured right wrist — cost him 22 games, Caruso landed among the league leaders in steals and deflections. His 1.8 steals-per-game still would rank tied for third if had played enough games to qualify.
“Defense was always something I knew I could control. In college, I was trying to get on the court when I was young. Same thing in the NBA,” Caruso said. “Once I was on a two-way (contract with the Lakers), I knew that if I got put in the game and got beat defensively, I wasn’t going to be in the game long.
“It’s just something I always kind of hung my hat on and just got better and better at with each passing year.”
Talking to Caruso about defense, it’s easy to see why. He describes getting deflections as fuel for his game. He readily answers a question about how ingrained the 24-second shot clock is in his head while defending.
“After they run an action or two, you know there are usually only a few seconds left. They run the initial action and get off it, there’s usually about 16 to 12 seconds left depending on how long it went. If they do it again, now they go iso, they probably have six to eight seconds. Somewhere between there, if they have to pass the ball, you can catch a glimpse (of the clock),” Caruso said. “You just gotta know what it is. If there’s three seconds left and the dude is at the top of the key and he’s doing a slow drag dribble or something, he’s probably not going to go by you. He’s going to shoot it.”
Some people need to touch the ball offensively for energy. Caruso draws energy from touching the ball — or taking it — on the defensive end.
“Deflections just get you more in tune with the game. It gets your rhythm back. You get a better feel for the game. You get a better feel for the other team,” he said. “To touch the ball, it’s an energy play. It gets you positive momentum.”