Can Alex Caruso be an X-Factor for the Los Angeles Lakers during the playoffs?

Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Fan-favorite players energize their team’s fans. Teams use that energy to push their play to new heights. When the NBA resumes this month in Disney World there will be a lack of fans due to safety protocols. Can Caruso give his team a boost during the playoffs?

Fan-favorite players have been a hallmark of team sports since the get-go. For the Lakers, you might think of Kurt Rambis with his mustache and horn-rimmed glasses.

A blue-collar player in stark contrast to the Showtime smoothness of Magic Johnson and company, his play brought much-needed grit to the NBA champions. And his cheering section the Rambis Youth loved him for it.

Fan favorites are never the best player on the team. They often have a goofy look or a quirky style of pay, but that only makes them more adored.

Fans love these guys because they are not the untouchable Gods that most superstars seem to be. They are just like me and you. Fans see themselves through these players working alongside their heroes.

This means their achievements are the crowd’s achievements and the response is huge. A fan-favorite hits a three or dunks on the other team’s star and the place goes wild. Momentum in team sports is everything. And the crowd plays its part in generating the energy for that.

Los Angeles Lakers
Alex Caruso (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Alex Caruso is the quintessential fan-favorite player. A little fancied prospect in college. A less than a straight forward route to the NBA.

He’s not big nor does he look particularly athletic. He’s a bench-warmer and he’s balding! (Author’s note- as a fellow follically-challenged individual I see no issue with this!) So why is Alex Caruso adored by the Laker faithful? And what does he bring to the team?

The man now known for his highlight-reel dunks as ‘Carushow’ had a difficult route to the NBA. He went undrafted and bounced around a few teams before landing with the Lakers during the 2017 NBA Summer League. But the hard work he put into his game paid off.

He helped the Lakers win the 2017 Summer League in Las Vegas. Caruso then became the first player ever to go from the D-league (now G-League) straight to the NBA on a two-way deal.

He made his Lakers NBA debut on 19th October 2017. Since then he has logged a career-high 32 points in a victory on 5th April 2019 against the Clippers. He was also the only player other than LeBron James that season to log a game with 30+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists. He signed a two-year contract on 6th July 2019.

Despite the humble start of his career, Alex Caruso is improving all the time.

Given Caruso’s look, he was soon dubbed Bald Eagle and Bald Mamba by the Laker fans.

Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

The fan-favorite relationship was growing. One put-back dunk last season drew such a shocked reaction from LeBron James that it went viral. Even King James was amazed at the new heights Caruso was soaring too.

He was becoming an important player who could pull fans out of their seats. A joke in the Lakers locker room that dubbed Caruso the GOAT began with LeBron James. But this was not a cruel form of mockery.

This tongue in cheek nickname said that Caruso was accepted and appreciated. In James’ eyes, the eyes of the team leader, Alex Caruso had arrived.

On the court, there is no better duo in the NBA this season than LeBron James and Alex Caruso.

That is a fact. They share NBA league-leading status with a plus-20.8 rating when on the court together (among duos with at least 300 minutes played). This means no pair of players in the NBA this year put more distance between their team and the opposition than Alex Caruso and LeBron James.

Individually Caruso is averaging 5.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1 steal per game in an average of 17.8 minutes a night. But the plus rating record he shares proves that the Lakers are a better team defensively when he is on the court. And we all know that defense wins championships.

The great Showtime Lakers of the 1980’s featured superstars Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. They won five of the ten NBA titles on offer in that decade.

Their greatest rivals were the Boston Celtics whose leader Larry Bird singled out his toughest opponent. And the man who Bird said defended him better than anyone else in the league? The Lakers fan favorite Michael Cooper. Not a star but a vital player with tough D and a high-dunking style on the fast-break that drew adoration from the crowd. Sound like anyone we know?

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Alex Caruso’s reaction in a recent interview to being called a fan favorite was typically team-oriented: “It brings energy from the crowd to the team if I do something cool so it helps us all play better.”

Without the fans in Orlando will this be a factor? It could be said that without fans there is even more need for players to generate their energy for their team to feed off. Alex Caruso has proven that his energy can win the admiration of the very best player in the league in LeBron James.

His play along King James proves he has an impact. The Lakers have a spark plug in their line-up and he will be needed. Even more so now that Avery Bradley has exercised his right to sit out of the NBA restart.

No-one quarrels with Bradley or his reasons but it does leave a hole at guard in the Lakers starting lineup. Bradley brought tough defense. We know Alex Caruso makes the Lakers a better defensive team when he is on the court and especially with Lebron James.

As the Lakers close in on NBA title number 17 we will see a lot of LeBron James on the court. Don’t be surprised if we also see a man stood next to him called Bald Eagle every step of the way. When the Carushow lands in Disney World it will be the hottest ticket in town.

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