“There’s not a ton in common, and that’s what’s funny about it,” Caruso said, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s a guy who’s basically been in the NBA his whole career. … I was a guy who wasn’t drafted, went to the G-League for a year, played in three Summer Leagues to try and get on a team, and still, even then, [was] grinding my way to get minutes and carving a role out.”
Caruso, 29, spent four years in college at Texas A&M leaving school in 2016.
He would not make his NBA debut for another two years despite inking a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017. Caruso cracked the Lakers’ rotation in his first season with the club and helped them win their 17th title just two years after that.
Reaves, 24, is in his second year out of Arkansas. He was also undrafted and is white but that is truly where the comparison stops.
The Lakers youngster averaged over 23 minutes per game as a rookie last season. He is just over 28 minutes per night this season but his production has nearly doubled in a couple of key areas going from 7.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists as a rookie to 12.3 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.0 boards in his sophomore campaign.
“Totally different players,” Reaves told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype conceding, ”but we’re guys that played on the Lakers, and we’re white. We don’t really look athletic. He’s athletic, but I’m not that athletic. I can see why people do it, but we’re two totally different players.”
For one thing, Caruso has never averaged double-digit points over an entire season coming closest in 2019 with 9.2 PPG. And Reaves is averaging 17.1 points, 5.7 assists, and 3.2 boards since the All-Star break.
It would seem Reaves is the better three-point shooter too, knocking down 37.8% of his triples this year (39.6% post-All-Star break) to 36.6% for Caruso.
That is not to take away from Caruso who owns the best on-off differential on the Bulls, per Cleaning The Glass, and helped bring a title to arguably the most storied franchise in the NBA, something Reaves is still hoping to achieve.
Austin Reaves Could Follow Alex Caruso’s Path
When it came time to pay Caruso for that success, the Lakers tried to low-ball him – apparently a theme at the time – offering a three-year, $21 million deal.
Caruso wanted something closer to that amount over two years to which the Lakers balked.
“No dollars and cents higher than that ever came back,” Caruso said, per Bill Oram of The Athletic. “There’s no counters. It was just, I think, that was kind of all they had. And at that point, it was like, okay, I have to make an executive decision based on real life here.”
Caruso got a four-year, $36.9 million contract from the Bulls and has become a favorite of the front office while the Lakers found Reaves. But, if they are not careful, the L.A. could find themselves in a similar situation with Reaves who made no bones about what he’s trying to accomplish during his NBA career: make money.
“Anybody that says we don’t play the game for money, to me, is lying,” Reaves asserted during an appearance on the ‘Point Forward Podcast’ on March 24. “Because I feel like, if you wasn’t getting paid, I don’t know if you would be here doing it. Obviously, everybody loves the game, yeah. But I want to make as much money as I can and you know be as successful as I can no matter where it’s at.”
Of course, there is mutual interest in Reaves’ return next season, per Jovan Buha of The Athletic.
But if the Lakers find themselves at such a crossroads once again, perhaps the Bulls could try to make lightning strike twice.
Bulls, Lakers on Collision Course
The Bulls will get a two-game close-up look at the Lakers’ rising star with a home-and-home for March 26 and March 29. Chicago will play the Clippers in between those two matchups but those Lakers’ tilts could get interesting.
Both teams are fighting for their postseason lives but the Lakers sit higher in the Western Conference standings than the Bulls do in the East.