Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was right when he uttered the now-famous adage: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once but I fear one who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." The same applies to basketball players. That's what coaches mean when they say, "be a star in your role."
Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso follows the same adage, partly because he wants to become the best player he could possibly be and partly because it was forced upon him. We're not talking about jump shots or dunks. During his stint in the G League and first year with the LA Lakers, Caruso was required to do one thing and one thing only, and that was to become a master of screens - setting them and fighting through them.
"We were doing just dribble handoff drills today and working on guards busting through screens and not getting screened. And one of the assistants brought me over and said, ‘You do such a great job of getting through screens and not getting screened.' And I told him, ‘Well, for three years that's all I was allowed to do.' When I was on a two-way (G-league contract) fighting for a spot and a little bit that first year trying to earn my role in LA, I had a limited role on offense. It was more of spacer, screener, ball mover.”
Alex Caruso, NBA.com
This is not an exaggeration. Though Caruso received ample playing time of 15-20 minutes per game in his first few years in the NBA, he averaged between 3.6 to 9.2 points per game. His profile as a newcomer meant AC had to earn his minutes. Besides, when you're teammates with up-and-coming young guns like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma, you're going to be thrown to the back of the bus.
This did not faze the Texas product in any way whatsoever. Some inevitably stand out because they can do more. Caruso understands that earlier in his career, he wasn't going to be that player — at least not yet. And so he dedicated himself to the art of busting through screens — even if it required 10,000 of them.
Caruso reaped the rewards little by little. He became the first G League player to go to the NBA via a two-way contract. His minutes increased slowly and surely, he surprised the Purple and Gold fan base with his dazzling jams, impressed LeBron James with his intelligence, and the best part of all, Caruso won himself an NBA Championship.
And so, not a single soul uttered a violent reaction when the Bulls offered the undrafted guard a four-year, $37 million contract. They knew a player like Caruso is an essential piece of any playoff team. Amid his rising stature in the league, AC hasn't forgotten what got him to this place: the immense attention to detail.
"He always is talking to our group about areas we've got to get better in and things we have to do to improve on in particular, like the free throw line blockouts. He says, ‘We've go to show that tomorrow in practice, those free throw line blockouts.' I say, ‘Believe me, we are on it.' He's always thinking about things to help the group."
Billy Donovan, NBA.com
Another adage rings true for Caruso: there's more to this than meets the eye. Caruso may average just under 10 points per game, will forever look like an IT professional instead of an elite athlete, but he'll always be regarded as his generation's best-hidden talent.