Alex Caruso wanted a foul. Two minutes into the second quarter of the Chicago Bulls’ win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, the guard felt he’d done everything right.
Catch a quick pass from DeMar DeRozan. Spot Dejounte Murray sagging off him deep inside the lane. Line up a wide-open 3-pointer. Absorb the contact of Murray’s frantic attempt at a closeout.
As Caruso jogged back on defense, he pleaded to the officials, noting a foul he was certain occurred. The posthumous call, of course, didn’t come. (They never do.) So Caruso took matters into his own hands.
On the ensuing play, by the time Frank Kaminsky attempted to feed Murray on the perimeter, Caruso had already leapt into the passing lane, his eyes fixated on the opposite rim. No Hawks player gave chase, leaving Caruso unencumbered to levitate above the rim, tuck the ball behind his head with both hands and drive a redemptive dunk through the rim.
In his second season in Chicago, Caruso continues to flourish as an agent of chaos, logging the seventh-most steals (1.7) and second-most deflections (3.9) per game in the league despite playing less than 25 minutes per game. Monday’s win encapsulated Caruso’s ability to disrupt an offense as he snatched three steals and swatted a block off 6-foot-10 center Clint Capela.
“The blocks that he has are really not his blocks,” forward Patrick Williams said. “They’re not his rotation to be there — but he’s there. The steals that he gets sometimes — that’s not his rotation. That’s just the energy that he plays with.”
But the most promising statistic for the Bulls is Caruso’s minutes this season. Tuesday’s game in Indiana will be Caruso’s 41st of the season. Last year, he tallied 41 total games as a byproduct of a laundry list of injuries with his feet, ankles, hamstring, back and wrist. This year, he hit 41 in January — with 35 games left in the regular season.
“Anything that’s hurting right now, it’s not out of the ordinary for anybody else in the league,” Caruso said.
The injury report Caruso provided for himself at shootaround Monday was cheerfully resolute. His shoulder after a painful sprain against the Hawks on Dec. 21: “Just about 100%.” His head after a concussion in that same game: “Good.” His knees, ankles and feet: “Good, good, good.”
The only complaint left for Caruso are bumps and bruises on his hands — and that, he promised, is normal at the midway point of the season.
“Anybody that doesn’t have a couple of sprained thumbs or a fat finger at this point in the year isn’t playing hard enough,” he said.
Despite those banged up fingers, Caruso’s accuracy from behind the arc has only grown after taking a serious dip last year.
He’s shooting 3-pointers at a 39.1% clip — up from 33.3% last year — while taking 0.9 fewer attempts per game. Caruso isn’t a high-volume shot-taker for the Bulls, but his 3-point accuracy comes second only to Williams (42.3%). In the 17-game turnaround since the Bulls’ disastrous loss to Minnesota in December, Caruso has shot 13-for-26 (50%) from behind the arc.
Caruso somewhat shrugged off this recent streak, crediting his accuracy to “good teammates who give me open shots.” But it’s a welcome improvement from last year, where his 3-point shooting plummeted in part due to a fracture in his shooting wrist midway through the season.
Caruso said he didn’t feel the need to switch up his shot in the offseason, focusing instead on getting his wrist back to full strength and rebuilding his confidence while shooting. But Caruso said he studies the shooting habits of veteran teammates like DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević, who use lengthy daily routines in the gym to hone their accuracy over decadelong careers.
“I’m trying to embody that,” Caruso said. “I’m trying to just be a student of the game. Continue to work, continue to get better because that’s what got me into the league and that’s what keeps you around.”
The Bulls are still trying to limit Caruso to 24 minutes a game, a sweet spot that allows him to play all-out without overtaxing his body. But his current state — healthy, high-energy and highly effective behind the arc — allows him to make every second of that playing time count.