Every time Alex Caruso launches himself airborne, Chicago Bulls fans have good reason to hold their breath.
But as the point guard returned Monday night against the Celtics in Boston after another short injury stint, the Bulls could feel somewhat relieved at an improvement in Caruso’s durability compared with last season.
Caruso, 28, sprained his right ankle against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday and was a game-time decision for the next two contests but didn’t play. The ankle sprain was his third injury spell of the season. Although Caruso quickly returned to full comfort in straight-ahead sprints, he was bothered by pain whenever he attempted lateral movement. Caruso told reporters Monday in Boston that the discomfort had quelled.
The cause of Caruso’s proclivity for injuries was best summed up by a recent three-game absence after suffering a concussion and right shoulder sprain against the Atlanta Hawks. Caruso suffered the injuries Dec. 21 when he flung himself sideways in an attempt to make a midcourt steal, colliding with a Hawks player. Caruso said he didn’t register any risk when he dived for the ball; all he saw was a clear path to a steal.
This is who Caruso always has been and always will be, and the Bulls wouldn’t want it any other way. Any question posed to coaches or teammates about attempting to convince the guard to restrain himself is met with the same reaction: laughter.
Caruso is reckless. He’ll dive on the hardwood, over the heads of sideline photographers and into the laps of unfortunate courtside fans for the chance to save a loose ball. The payoff is evident: Caruso is 17th in the league in steals (1.6 per game) despite mainly coming off the bench, setting a tone and pace for the Bulls defense by wreaking havoc on opposing players.
But Caruso’s heedlessness in his first season with the Bulls in 2021-22 became a hindrance. He was sidelined for 41 games — half of the season. Although a large portion of his absence came from a fractured right wrist courtesy of a Grayson Allen foul, Caruso has set a pattern of racking up short absences because of injuries.
While that pattern has continued, Caruso’s work in the offseason to develop durability is benefiting the Bulls. At the 40-game mark of the season, Caruso has been available for all but six games. At the same point last season, Caruso had missed 14 games.
Balancing the needs of such a high-intensity player comes with challenges. Coach Billy Donovan aims to keep Caruso’s workload under 30 minutes, which can be complicated when the guard is expected to be in the starting and closing rotations.
After his two-game absence, Caruso returned to a Bulls team that entered Monday on an 8-3 run despite struggling defensively. The Bulls began the season with a top-10 defensive rating, but it dropped to the fourth worst in the league (118.6) in their recent 11-game hot streak.
While the Bulls are balancing their porous defense with prolific scoring, Caruso’s return would help the team find balance.