The flurry of Lakers free agency activity is, basically, over after re-signing Alex Caruso to a 2-year contract worth $5.5 million per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Caruso, who was tendered his qualifying offer at the beginning of free agency, was a restricted free agent before agreeing to this deal.
After signing Quinn Cook to his own 2-year contract and bringing back Rajon Rondo (another 2-year deal), the Lakers have a diverse crop of point guards to compete for playing time. Of all three, Caruso is the least “known” to fans of other teams, but I’d imagine an informal poll of Lakers fans would actually wonder if he’s the best man to earn a starting job in a lineup that will include any combination of LeBron, Anthony Davis, Danny Green, and one of Kyle Kuzma, newly signed Demarcus Cousins, or the re-signed JaVale McGee.
You see, Caruso offers some unique qualities, all in a single player, that none of the other point guards currently do. At a legit 6’5″, Caruso brings positional size. That size, along with young and active legs, translates to good defensive ability both on the ball and as a help defender. Caruso is also a diverse off-ball worker, offering skill and smarts as a cutter with athleticism to finish with force in the restricted area. And while his jumpshot is a work in progress, Caruso did hit 24 of his 50 three point shots last season in his short time with the big team after his call-up from the South Bay Lakers.
Caruso also brings competent point guard play with good feel as a passer, particularly in transition where he is adept at passing ahead and at leading the break in the middle of the floor where his ability to get downhill and attack the basket is complemented nicely by good vision and timing as a passer.
Caruso, of course, does have his flaws. His handle is good, but not as tight as it needs to be. Combined with a lack of shake and strong burst at the point of attack, he can bothered with good ball pressure — particularly in full court situations. When you pair these deficits with his unproven jumper, his game has best translated to transition play as a lead guard but as a cutter and secondary P&R ball-handler in the halfcourt — a style that mostly translates to an offensive style most associated with a shooting or combo guard.
So, what is Caruso? While the positional answer to that will ultimately depend on how much skill development (shooting and ball handling) he can achieve in the summer, the most basic answer is “an NBA level rotation player”. And, with these Lakers, I hope Caruso gets that chance. The past two years saw him over utilized in his first season as a two-way contract player when he was not ready and underutilized in his second season where the Lakers could have really used his size and defensive ability amid an injury ravaged season to their point guards.
This season, then, with a full-on contract with the big team, I hope head coach Frank Vogel has an open mind even as expectations ratchet up more in the wake of Anthony Davis’ arrival. Caruso, an undrafted player, deserves the opportunity to compete against Rondo and his veteran/playoff pedigree and Cook’s more playoff tested and proven game as a shooting threat. Because, if he gets that chance, I think he’ll show he can really play in this league as more than just a part-time rotation player.