Bulls

Could This Season Be Caruso’s Best and Last One as a Bull?

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Ten years ago, Joakim Noah could be found on the United Center court, suited up in the classic white and red Chicago Bulls uniform.

Now, Noah can sometimes still be found at the United Center — just not in uniform and likely in a suite watching the game as a fan and team ambassador.

On January 20, Noah was momentarily found at the United Center seated behind the scorer’s table, joining Stacey King and Adam Amin for part of the Bulls’ telecast of the game against the Memphis Grizzlies. He reflected on unfulfilled championship hopes, his relationship with former Bull and current Grizzly Derrick Rose, his thoughts on the current Chicago team, and more. Before signing off for his cameo, he had a shoutout for one Bull in particular: Alex Caruso.

“He reminds me of Kirky Worky, that guy,” Noah said, a clear sense of pride and approval in his voice.

The former Bull made the comment after Caruso had just drained a right-wing three-pointer. The shot gave the Bulls a 64-55 lead and forced the Grizzlies to take a timeout with 6:58 left in the third quarter.

Noah’s comparison was a fitting one that perhaps could have only been more ideal had it been after a Caruso hustle play or defensive stop. After all, those kinds of plays and three-pointers were among what “Kirky Worky” was best known for.

Longtime former Bull Kirk Hinrich, who was affectionately given the aforementioned nickname by Noah during their time in Chicago, is the franchise leader in three-pointers made at 1,049. Beyond that, the point guard made a name for himself with his defense and gritty play. He never hesitated to dive for a loose ball or go for a steal. He wasn’t even afraid to tackle LeBron James.

Those same qualities and similar mentality are what have made Caruso a Bulls fan-favorite — and just as important to the team as its core of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević.

Caruso Expands Offensive Repertoire to Longer (and More Consistent) Distance

While Caruso wasn’t a bad three-point shooter last season— his 36.4% from downtown wasn’t anything special. But this year? He’s the Bulls’ best three-point shooter. On an average of 4.4 three-point field goal attempts per game, he has connected on 41.5% of his tries this season. It’s a drastic improvement on a personal level and an important component for a team that lacks a go-to three-point shooter.

Since coming to Chicago in 2021, Caruso proved his value on the defensive end from the get-go. He made such an impact early on in his Bulls tenure that Chicago fans were quickly thanking the Los Angeles Lakers for not keeping the Texas A&M alumnus. His defense and hustle plays made it so he always had minutes. Even if Caruso didn’t have as much to offer on offense, his defensive contributions made up for it. 

Now, opponents need to give him ample attention on both ends of the court. If not, the opposing team may find themselves dealing with a Caruso who gets hot from behind the three-point line. Such was the case for the Phoenix Suns on January 22 when they saw Caruso tie his career-high of five made three-pointers. It was a key factor in the Bulls gaining a 23-point lead (which ultimately evolved into a deficit and loss, but that’s another story itself).

Alex Caruso: An Irreplaceable Piece and the Bulls’ Greatest Trade Asset

For Bulls fans, what’s great about Caruso may also be a detriment.

Now standing at 22-25, Chicago may have turned things around since its 5-14 start. However, the Bulls still have a ways to go. At this rate, they’ll earn a spot in the Play-In Tournament. Compared to their disastrous beginning, that’s good. But it’s nowhere good enough to make anyone on the team untouchable, including Caruso.

Because of what he offers as a 3-and-D player, Caruso is arguably the Bulls’ best trade asset. He’s the exact type of player that championship-contending teams are always in the market for. It’s what makes the guard such a head-versus-heart dilemma for Bulls fans. Because he’s a player who, in your heart, you would want to keep on your team. But he’s also a player who, in your head, you would know is valuable and deserving of more than an average team that’s a bottom-seeded playoff team at best.

On a recent episode of “The Old Man and the Three,” JJ Redick was discussing Tobias Harris, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the impending trade deadline. When asked by podcast co-host Tommy Alter about whether the Sixers need a defensive wing, Redick said, “Give me Caruso.” As a basketball fan, I thought, “Smart choice.” As a Bulls fan who wants to have good players on the team, I thought, “Don’t you dare.”

Chicago is in a position where it’s seemingly time for change. This doesn’t necessarily mean a complete rebuild, but the lack of success in recent years is reason enough for something new. The Bulls fanbase has been vocal about wanting the front office to make moves this season especially. However, that may need to come at the expense of giving up Caruso.

Is Change Coming Once and For All For Alex Caruso and the Bulls?

According to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, Bulls management hasn’t expressed an interest in trading Caruso. But given his increased value, the current state of the Bulls, and the development of young talent, such a move being made eventually wouldn’t be surprising.

The primary selling point for the Bulls’ roster has been continuity: having the consistency of a roster that (mostly) remains unchanged who can learn and grow together. At least that’s what Bulls general manager Artūras Karnišovas has preached. But the only continuity Chicago has gotten from a roster constructed around DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević is mediocrity.

For much of the season, the Bulls have been without LaVine due to injury. It, however, seemingly spurred the emergence of Coby White and Patrick Williams. Now Chicago has an idea of what its team could do without their high-flying superstar.

Just going off a 12-10 record, the Bulls can do all right without LaVine. That’s not to say they’ve figured everything out without him or couldn’t benefit from his scoring. But it shows how their young players can grow into the new leaders of the team. And it has fans continuing to question whether LaVine should remain a Bull.

Chicago is in a position where it needs to decide between focusing on the present or embracing the future. In an ideal situation, Caruso would remain on the Bulls regardless of that choice.

But this isn’t just basketball. It’s the NBA, where basketball is a business just as much as it is a game.

No matter what route Chicago wants to take, some sort of change will happen. It could be big. It could be minor. It could be at the trade deadline. It could be in the offseason (after what’s on track to be a low playoff seed appearance or another play-in tournament). It could involve LaVine. It could not involve LaVine. But Caruso may be too lucrative of a trade target for the Bulls’ change to exclude him.

If such a choice prompts a move involving Caruso, Noah’s comparison to Hinrich will remain accurate in a new way: the Bulls parting ways with their scrappy defensive-minded guard not because they want to, but because it’s a business decision they have to make.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina American writer and Illinois journalism graduate based in the Chicago suburbs. She has a decade's worth of sports writing experience, having been published in several online publications. She writes about the Bulls, the Sky, and general NBA content for The Lead.

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