Top NBA Prospects in the SEC, Part Twelve: Prospects #18-22|
September 30, 2014
Texas A&M junior point guard Alex Caruso was a top-100 high school recruit when he committed to his hometown school, but he has not made much of a splash thus far at the national level. Part of that has to do with consecutive subpar seasons from coach Billy Kennedy and the Aggies, who sported one of the worst offenses in the SEC last season and have had multiple setbacks that have hampered the team's progress. Nevertheless, there is a case to be made that Caruso may be one of the more underrated players in the country going into his junior season.
At 6'5, Caruso literally stands out at the point guard position, possessing rare size to go along with solid athleticism and length. That being said, he will have to find some way of getting stronger, as his 184-pound frame has not changed dramatically since his junior year in high school and he does not have the elite athleticism to compensate for his lack of strength
On offense, Caruso is a point guard with a propensity for dazzling passes, averaging 6.8 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted, even if he is not the most prolific scorer. He averages a paltry 12.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted, finding a majority of his possessions in pick-and-roll, spot-up and transition capacities.
Caruso is particularly effective operating out of the pick-and-roll, where he relies on his size and court vision to see over the competition and launch passes all over the floor. His vision is elite and he did an excellent job of finding players cutting to the basket, big men alone on the low block, and open shooters on the wing. Every player on the floor is an option to receive Caruso's passes and sometimes they are not ready for him. Though errant passes and a tendency to make difficult and ambitious passes do not help matters, some of his 3.4 turnovers per 40 minutes pace adjusted come when his teammates are simply not ready to receive the ball.
Caruso showed the most potential as a scorer out of the pick-and-roll, particularly while dribbling off of picks and using his above average first step to get to the basket. While he lacks much in the way of a mid-range game and is not a creative scorer at this point in his career, Caruso displays excellent ball-handling ability and changes directions well, doing a very good job of creating space on his way to the rim. Additionally and despite his lack of standout athleticism and strength, Caruso converts a respectable 53.5% of his overall attempts around the basket, relying on his soft touch and body control to finesse his way to the rim.
This versatility translates into transition settings, as well, where he does a good job of running the floor and is difficult to read given his ability to score and distribute.
One area to watch is his jump shooting. Caruso is neither a high volume nor efficient jump shooter, as he made just 31% of his 87 overall attempts last season. Behind the numbers, however, Caruso made an excellent 48.7% of his attempts in unguarded catch-and-shoot versus 18.2% of guarded attempts. In space, Caruso shows fluid mechanics with a quick release, albeit without much in the way of elevation. When guarded, Caruso's shooting motion looks rushed and his form breaks down completely, suggesting that with increased comfort and practice, that he can develop in this area in due time. That being said, a competent jump shot is integral to his prospects at the next level, not to mention his effectiveness in the SEC.
On defense, Caruso joins a rare group of players – Anfernee Hardaway, Doug Christie, Jamaal Tinsely, and Derrick Zimmerman are the others in the past 20 years – to average at least 6.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.0 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted. When dialed in, Caruso shows active hands and feet, and the ability to stay involved while defending both guard positions. On film, his lateral quickness looks average at best and he will undoubtedly struggle to guard quicker guards in the NBA. That being said, many of his defensive woes are amplified by his average fundamentals. Doing a better job of maintaining his stance, staying engaged when he is beaten, not biting on pump fakes or losing track of his man on the perimeter, and fighting through, rather than running under, screens could help his prospects in scouts' eyes. This is because without increased effort and skill, his average athleticism significantly limits what he can bring to an NBA team and he must prove to scouts that he is competent in order for him to stay viable as a prospect.
At the end of the day, Alex Caruso is an intriguing prospect pending two important conditions; he must improve on the defensive end of the floor and he must develop a consistent perimeter jump shot. After all, 6'5 point guards do not grow on trees and Caruso shows both elite feel for the game and creative flair that suggests he has definite potential at the pro level. Otherwise, he is a point guard who can neither score nor defend, and his size will not work in his favor if he cannot compete for minutes at an elite level. With this in mind, Caruso could either take a leap into the top half of prospects in the SEC or he can remain a marginal curiosity. With a veteran team looking to make an NCAA Tournament run and a summer of development under his belt, scouts will be watching intently to see which path Alex Caruso takes.
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