Haphazard shooting has defined a disastrous 4-9 start to the season for the Chicago Bulls. Every main rotational player is shooting well below their averages from last season — except Alex Caruso.
The Bulls typically lean on Caruso as a defensive specialist. But he also the hottest hand on the floor at any given time the season, shooting at 63.2% clip from the field.
That accuracy extends to long range. Caruso is 50% on 3-pointers, averaging 1.5 through 13 games. And while Zach LaVine (2.5) and Coby White (1.6) post slightly higher volumes of makes, it’s clear Caruso is the most reliable shooter from deep.
This is easily the best start Caruso has had in his career. The guard is a strong shooter, averaging 43.7% from the field and 37.2% from 3-point range in his career. But Caruso entered Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat at the United Center sixth in the league in true shooting percentage.
Caruso credits the sudden spike in his shooting to a new mindset.
“This is probably the most unattached to results that I’ve been in my life basketball-wise as far as shots going in or out,” Caruso said. “And that’s probably why I’m making most of them.”
The Bulls need this level of fearlessness to overcome a sense of timidity that dominates their style of play — especially in the first half. After Friday’s 103-97 loss to the Orlando Magic, forward DeMar DeRozan described the team as “shooting like we’re trying not to miss” and “playing like we’re trying not to make a mistake.”
The result is an offense that is shooting 44% from the field — a 5% drop from last season — resulting in 2.6 fewer makes despite taking 3.9 more attempts per game.
But Caruso isn’t afraid to take a shot. He boldly steps into 3-pointers, firing with a newfound abandon that only has built his confidence.
“There’s a part of me that doesn’t care,” Caruso said. “If I’m open, I shoot it. I’m playing basketball, competing to win. If it’s the right shot, take it. Trust the work. I worked really hard this summer and this preseason and during the season. There’s no reason not to shoot them.”
Caruso continued his sharp shooting Friday when he moved into the starting lineup, scoring 18 points while going 4-for-5 from behind the 3-point arc.
The starting power forward position has been a constant quandary for the Bulls. This is coach Billy Donovan’s second adjustment to the rotation after replacing Patrick Williams with Torrey Craig in the second week of the season.
Caruso isn’t even a power forward. He’s one of the taller guards on the roster at 6-foot-5, but he’s still often asked to guard players who /are several inches taller. Caruso is a wily defender who typically can keep the oversized matchups off their rhythm, but playing small ball requires the Bulls to rely more heavily on their defensive rotations in critical moments — something they’ve failed to do this season.
And for Caruso, there’s an added physical element being asked to play bigger than his size. He embraces the challenge. But it’s still a realistic concern for the Bulls, who have lost Caruso for extended periods because of injury over the last two seasons.
After Friday’s loss, Donovan didn’t commit to whether Caruso would become a permanent starter. And Caruso expressed the same ambivalence.
“I think tonight is just the first instance of trying out me starting and finding the minutes that work for me and the team,” Caruso said. “(It’s an) ongoing process. We’ll see if there are adjustments moving forward.”
But whether he’s coming off the bench or suiting up as a starter, it’s clear Caruso currently holds the greatest game-changing sway on the Bulls roster.