In life, you get paid based on production, right?
Not necessarily. As anyone who has spent any time in the workforce will tell you, there are always people who make more than they put in, and there are always some poor people who make less.
Unfortunately, Alex Caruso falls into the latter category. At an annual rate of just over $9 million, a casual observer would look at his contract and assume that he was a below-average or midway taxpayer.
Dig deeper, though, and you’ll see that Caruso’s value far exceeds the dollar amount listed on his biweekly checks.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Chicago Bulls’ efficiency differential per 100 possessions is almost ten points better with Caruso on the floor, an improvement that ranks in the 93rd percentile.
This on/off impact resembles Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili’s recent Hall of Famer, who posted similar Efficiency Differentials in nearly every season from 2004-12 (per Clean Glass).
But more than their on-and-off impact (and their Italian heritage), the two guards share the same wild style. You see, both Caruso and Ginobili play basketball with the same degree of reckless abandon. They never hesitate in making decisions, they take calculated risks that only they seem to see, and they are fully prepared to sacrifice their bodies on any given possession.
Today, Caruso alters the entire panorama of the court with his presence on defense. He is a fierce defender of the ball, regularly taking on the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
But because of the impressive shots that are common in today’s NBA, there’s a limit to the value you can provide as a defender. Even if your technique is perfect, there’s a good chance the offensive player will bury a jumper right in your face.
To avoid that possibility entirely, Caruso has become a master of the defensive game. Thefts, blockades, diversions, charges, all of these things are ways of circumventing the man’s defense process. An offensive player can’t score if he never gets the first shot.
Thanks to his monstrous defensive playmaking totals, he’s a one-number defensive metrics favorite, ranking in the top seven in nearly every widely-cited overall stat available to the general public.
It’s not just a stat padder either. As we mentioned in the opener, the Bulls’ defense gets better when Caruso graces the hardwood. When he’s on the floor, Chicago’s defensive rating is 109.9. That mark is the exact same defensive rating of the number one ranked defense in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies (per Glass Clean).
And beware, Ginobili was not a one-dimensional player. During his prime, the San Antonio Spurs used to be a better defensive team with him on the floor. The same can be said for Caruso and the Bulls’ offense.
Under Caruso, Chicago’s offense is +3.2 points per 100 possessions better (72nd percentile, per Glass Clean). And while he’s not a flashy volume scorer, he’s an underrated passer (scoring 7.2 out of 10 on Ben Taylor’s passer rating metric) and a capable 3-point shooter (39.6% on 3-pointers this year). The perfect player to amplify Chicago’s three-headed offensive machine in DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.
Despite his Hall of Fame selection, Ginobili was still underappreciated for much of his career. His on-court performance points to that of a bona fide star, and yet he only had two All-Star appearances to prove it.
Let’s not make the same mistake with Caruso and acknowledge his brilliance while we can (he better be on your All-Defensive team ballot!). But even if we don’t, he’ll still move forward the same way, as one of the most uniquely impactful players per minute in the entire NBA.