A growing number of analysts are pushing for the sixth-year guard to at least be in consideration for the award, including Stephen Beslic of Sports Illustrated and Will Gottlieb of CHGO Sports.
In his second year with Chicago, Caruso has established himself as the team’s defensive ace, often making momentum-changing plays immediately after entering the game. He’s averaging just under 25 minutes per contest, and while his stat line isn’t gaudy (5.6 points, 3.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game), his contributions have been huge.
“When a guy like Alex does some of the things that he does, there’s no question it inspires your team,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said about Caruso, via Beslic.
Caruso has played in 41 games while starting 17 for the Bulls this year, and some might argue he hasn’t played enough to warrant consideration. That argument can be countered by how productive he has been when he is on the court, however.
Alex Caruso Is Making a Case for Himself for DPOY
Caruso is currently second in the NBA (3.4%) in CRAFTED’s DPM (Defensive Plus Minus), an aggregate of multiple different plus minus defensive metrics.
The Bulls are noticeably better as a unit when the 28-year-old guard enters the game, and as Gottlieb notes, the numbers back that up.
“When Caruso is on the court, the Bulls defensive rating is 110.7, which would rank around top-five in the NBA,” Gottlieb wrote on January 24. “Without him, it falls to 116.8, roughly bottom-four. His defensive on/off impact ranks in the 94th percentile of the entire NBA.”
If Caruso stays healthy and continues on the path he has been on, particularly of late, he may just force his way into the conversation.
He’s currently third amongst all guards in blocked shots in the Eastern Conference, and he has been elite when it comes to creating turnovers on defense.
2022 DPOY Winner May Have ‘Set the Precedent’ for Caruso
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert won Defensive Player of the Year three of the last five years, but last year’s winner, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, may have provided a gateway of sorts for Caruso.
“Marcus Smart won the award last year as a guard, he was the first guard to do so since Gary Payton in 1996,” Gottlieb noted adding: “He set the precedent that switchable, point-of-attack, help defender guards can win the award.”
Smart averaged 32.2 minutes per game last year, and he also tallied 3.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. Caruso isn’t far off from that, averaging 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks in eight fewer minutes. It’s difficult to argue that Caruso hasn’t been incredibly efficient.
The Bulls guard missed time in the second half of the season last year after getting his wrist broken on a dirty play courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Greyson Allen, who was ejected for the flagrant foul. If Caruso can stay healthy for the remainder of the season, there’s no reason to believe he can’t surpass what Smart did with the Celtics last year.