Early Monday afternoon, USA Today’s basketball insider Sam Amick announced on Twitter that Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball would miss that evening’s Summer League matchup against the Kings due to a sore groin. That news instantly saddened a lot of diehard NBA fans for a variety of different reasons. For one, Ball arguably stood as the most intriguing prospect to play in Summer League due to his tremendous talent and the constant media attention surrounding his family.
More importantly, that evening would’ve marked the first time that fans would be able to see Ball and Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox face off on an NBA stage. Both players entered Summer League as two of the to-five picks in last month’s NBA Draft. Alongside that, Kentucky’s Fox and UCLA’s Ball developed a pretty heated rivalry, despite in different conferences.
With Ball sidelined for that Monday night matchup, the Lakers Summer League squad looked to former OKC Blue guard Alex Caruso to step in as the team’s lead point guard. Prior to that game, Caruso stood as a relative unknown compared to some of the former lottery picks that were competing in Vegas. However, that unknown status quickly changed once Caruso actually stepped on the court.
Against the Kings, Caruso broke out as he flirted with a double-double as he put up 19 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals on 7-9 from the field and 4-5 from beyond the arc in 30 minutes. Caruso’s great level of production was necessary for the Lakers to squeak out a 95-92 victory over the Kings.
From the jump, Caruso immediately stood out as a key contributor as he pushed the Lakers offense through great facilitating and key perimeter shooting. During the first eight minutes of the game, Caruso led the Lakers with 6 points and 3 assists. That performance continued throughout most of the game to the point where they led by 28 points during the middle of the 3rd quarter.
Caruso’s great play on the defensive end was another reason behind the Lakers huge advantage. He did a great job of shutting down De’Aaron Fox as the Kentucky alum only put up 12 points on 4-6 from the field.
However, the Kings were able to quietly able to bounce back as they trimmed that entire 28-point deficit to the point where they tied things up with 4:30 left in regulation.
Luckily for the Lakers, Caruso was able to step his game up on both sides of the ball in the final moments of the game. In the last four minutes, Caruso just shined on both ends of the court as he was working as a great facilitator and driver on offense, while also being a great help defender.
Caruso’s great defense was the biggest factor as he just locked Buddy Hield down. During the final four minutes of the game, Caruso’s great defense forced Hield to commit a block and steal, respectively. During that final Hield turnover, Caruso was a part of the biggest play of the game where he threw a pretty alley-oop lob to former South Bay Laker forward Travis Wear.
Although Caruso shocked a lot of folks in Vegas, it wouldn’t be a surprise to the people that had the opportunity to watch him play for the OKC Blue. With the Blue, Caruso stood out as one of the finest defenders in the entire NBA G League, as he averaged 2.2 steals per game. Coinciding with that, Caruso was a huge reason why the OKC Blue stood as one of the best defensive teams in the league, as they held opponents to 101.8 points per game, the 2nd lowest average in the NBA G League.
While Caruso shined brightest on defense, he was also a solid weapon on the other end of the court. As a G League rookie, Caruso put up 11.9 points, 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game on 46% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. While those aren’t the most eye-popping numbers, it did show that he can be a pretty efficient offensive weapon that can shine as a perimeter shooter and facilitator.
Coming off a great rookie season in the G League and an amazing Summer League game, it seems like Caruso is moving closer to an opportunity to land on an NBA roster. Are there more athletic or quicker guards out there for a team to pick up? Absolutely. However, he’s basically the perfect embodiment of what NBA squads look for in a 2nd unit.
On a regular basis, he shines as someone that can facilitate in the pick-and-roll while also being able to knock down perimeter jumpers as an off-ball guard. More important than that, Caruso is a tenacious on-ball defender that just drools at the thought of locking down the opposing team’s best scorer.
After a strong showing against the Sacramento Kings’ Summer League squad, it seems like Caruso might be closing in on finally getting an NBA opportunity. While it’s silly to get excited over one Summer League game, that performance might reintroduce him to some NBA squads that may have forgotten about him after he left Texas A&M.
Once that happens, those teams may become intrigued by Caruso due to the simple fact that this kind of performance has more of a pattern than a mirage. If one NBA squad could figure that out then there’s a chance that a team can throw a training camp invite or two-way contract at Alex Caruso.