Alex Caruso first drew the attention of Laker fans on July 10, 2017 when he stepped into the starting lineup during NBA Summer League action and scored 18 point and dished nine assists in a thrilling 95-92 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Caruso was rewarded for his play three days later when he became the first Laker ever to sign the NBA’s new two-way contract. It’s been three months since the ink on the contract dried, but the buzz surrounding him hasn’t gone away. His progress throughout training camp was on full display in Tuesday’s nationally-televised preseason game against the Utah Jazz. The point guard was the spark of the team’s second unit and ended up leading the entire team in assists (10) and rebounds (6).
“It’s been a lot of hard work from the G League [last season] to Summer League and now Training Camp,” the Texas native said during the postgame media scrum. “It’s a bigger platform now so I think that’s why people are starting to take notice.”
As Laker fans become more familiar with his game, they’ll also enjoy learning about the perseverance in his backstory.
A four-year letterman at Texas A&M University, Caruso went undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, but performed well during an NBA Summer League opportunity with the Philadelphia 76ers, which led to a training camp invite with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He never logged a minute with OKC during the 2016 preseason schedule, but he did go on to star for their NBA Gatorade League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.
With the Blue, Caruso showed off his defensive prowess by leading all NBA G League players in steals (108). He also displayed a knack to score and facilitate offensively by averaging 11.9 points and 5.2 assists per game, along with recording a 40.1% clip on threes.
Between his time with the Blue and a postseason invite to the NBA Development Elite Mini Camp, he caught the eyes of several of the Lakers top brass that led to him earning a spot on the Lakers 2017 NBA Summer League roster. Fast forward to now with just under a week until the start of the 2017-18 NBA regular season, the 23-year-old point guard was one of the first topics discussed by Lakers head coach Luke Walton at Wednesday’s post-practice media session.
“We love the way he plays,” started Walton. “We’re confident in what he’s doing and what the team is doing when he’s on the floor.”
Minutes later 10-year NBA vet Corey Brewer added, “He’s a pest. He plays hard. And he goes about things the right way.”
If it isn’t obvious that Caruso has gained the respect of his head coach and teammates, it’s statistically apparent by the increase in minutes he’s received during each preseason game. Ever since he played only seven minutes in his preseason debut against Minnesota on September 30th, he’s earned nine, 14, 29, and most recently 32 minutes in Tuesday’s game against the Jazz.
When seeking to describe his playing style, the 11 points and 22 assists he’s amassed during the preseason could peg him as a pass-first point guard, but Caruso himself has a different description.
“I’d say attack first, because when I see a lane and go after it, it either creates a shot for me or my teammates. I enjoy being aggressive.”
That mentality in his second NBA training camp has a lot of people, both inside and out of the Lakers facility, eager to see what the point guard has in store for the 2017-18 season.