Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso is the type of player that coaches dream about—he moves the ball, doesn’t take bad shots, sacrifices personal stats for the benefit of the team, and, most importantly, plays relentless defense.
In fact, his defensive prowess has earned him a strong following in the NBA and sparked a debate about whether he should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
When it comes to the DPOY award, guards don’t often get the nod—it’s a recognition typically reserved for big men. And while the Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart earned the prestigious award last season, he was only the sixth guard in NBA history to do so, joining the likes of Gary Payton, Alvin Robertson, Michael Cooper, Sidney Moncrief, and Michael Jordan.
But there is something special about Alex Caruso. He stands out as a guard with an uncanny ability to read plays and anticipate his opponent’s moves before they even happen. His size allows him to guard multiple positions, and his quickness allows him to bother even the best guards in the Association, like Atlanta’s Trae Young, who Caruso harassed into committing this turnover on what was supposed to be a routine trip up the floor.
Caruso’s defensive impact
As the eye test certainly supports Caruso’s impact on the defensive end, the numbers do the same. He ranks seventh in the league in steals per game with 1.7, despite playing just 24 minutes per game. He is also first in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR rating with a +5.3.
Finally, whenever Caruso is leading the Bulls’ defense, the team’s defensive rating stands at a gaudy 110.7—good for a top-five ranking. However, whenever he’s off the floor, it plunges to a horrendous 116.8, which is near the bottom of the league.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan is well aware of Caruso’s contributions, saying the guard inspires his team on so many fronts.
“When a guy like Alex does some of the things that he does, there’s no question it inspires your team,” Donovan said.
The Defensive Player of the Year award is always a hotly contested race, and this season will be no different. Still, despite being up against established frontrunners such as Giannis Antokounmpo and Rudy Gobert, Alex Caruso is making a strong case for himself that should not be ignored.
If he continues to play at this level, then perhaps a guard will once again be named the DPOY.