Alex Caruso injury update: Defensive guard’s return could make Bulls a dangerous team in the playoffs

The Chicago Bulls should be getting some much-needed reinforcements soon. Reserve guard Alex Caruso was a full participant in practice on Friday, and the defensive pest said that he’s “close” to a return after being sidelined with a fractured wrist for seven weeks.

“We’re close,” Caruso said. “We haven’t talked about specific target yet. I think we’re just trying to take it day-by-day to make sure it passes each test. Wake up (Saturday), hopefully no soreness that will hold me back and go from there. I think we have to continue to check the boxes, make sure that it’s functional and if I get hit, it’s not going to be bad — if I fall, little things like that. But as far as shooting and passing and dribbling, I’m good with all that stuff.”

This is incredibly positive news for a Chicago team that has slipped defensively in Caruso’s absence. Since Caruso — and guard Lonzo Ball — have been sidelined, the Bulls have allowed 6.3 more points per game without their two best defenders available. That’s been reflected in the win-loss column, as the Bulls have gone just 12-10 since Caruso has been out, falling to fourth in the Eastern Conference after having the best record in the East prior to both Caruso and Ball’s costly injuries.

Caruso initially fractured his wrist on Jan. 21 during the third quarter of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. After the Bulls forced a turnover, rookie Ayo Dosunmu found a streaking Caruso who went hard to the basket. As Caruso elevated for the basket at the rim, Bucks guard Grayson Allen came flying in to try and block the shot, but instead grabbed ahold of the Bulls guard and sent him spinning to the ground. Allen was assessed a flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game as a result. Caruso called the foul “bull—-,” after it happened, and Bulls coach Billy Donovan said Allen’s foul could’ve “ended Caruso’s career,” and alluded to the Bucks guard’s history of questionable fouls.

But now, Caruso has put the foul that sidelined him for seven weeks behind him and is instead focusing on the future ahead for the Bulls.

“I’m over it,” Caruso said. “As far as the play and all that I can’t do anything to change it. The only thing I can do is figure out how I’m gonna get better, how I’m gonna get the team better, how we can win games. The six weeks was pretty frustrating, just not being out there with the guys and seeing them win a handful of games in a row, lose a handful of games in a row. The emotions of the season go up and down. So for me, it was just about trying to compartmentalize all that, focus on what I can control and kind of just get back to hoops.”  

When Caruso returns, which could be as early as Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers as he hasn’t been ruled out for that game yet, some of Chicago’s defensive issues could start to disappear. Earlier in the season, Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine credited both Ball and Caruso for not just playing elite individual defense but elevating the defensive effort of everyone else on the floor. That’s been missing from the Bulls since both guards have been out, as they have allowed easy shots by opponents due to lack of communication and just blown defensive assignments.

Caruso’s ability to put pressure on the ball and come away with steals any chance he gets will help Chicago generate the turnovers it needs to get points in transition and open up the offense more. Despite being sidelined for seven weeks, Caruso still ranks fourth in the league in deflections per game (3.5), and fourth in steals (2.0), showing just how impactful he is when he’s healthy and on the floor for the Bulls. 

Although he comes off the bench for Chicago, his defensive effort is felt every time he steps on the floor. The Bulls allow 10.4 fewer points per possession when he’s on the court, which ranks in the 98th percentile in the entire league. So it’s safe to say that getting Caruso back out there will do wonders for the Bulls on defense. Caruso was also knocking down 3s at a 34.5 percent rate prior to the injury, giving Chicago another shooting weapon to go to when needed.

Though the Bulls surely would’ve liked to have Caruso back a whole lot sooner, getting him back potentially within the next couple games is an ideal window for him as the team prepares to head into the playoffs for the first time in five years. The returns of second-year forward Patrick Williams and Ball are also on pace to happen in the near future, as Williams was recently cleared for for controlled contact. Ball is still further behind both Caruso and Williams after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee in late January, and according to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, could still be about two weeks away from a return.

If the Bulls are able to get back all three players full healthy before the playoffs, this team instantly becomes more dangerous. Although it’s been awhile since we’ve seen this team at full strength, early in the season Chicago looked like a serious playoff threat with their improved defense centered around the efforts of Caruso and Ball, and the dynamic scoring duo of LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. Throw in the fact that DeRozan has been playing at an MVP level to help keep this team afloat over the past two months, and you’re looking at a team that could do some serious damage in the postseason.

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