Alex Caruso on All-Defensive team? Lakers coach Frank Vogel says yes

Lakers guard Alex Caruso draws the Suns defense toward him on a drive into the lane.
Lakers guard Alex Caruso draws the Suns defense to him on a drive into the lane during the game Sunday night at Staples Center.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The void Alex Caruso has been forced to fill has only sharpened his effectiveness on offense and defense for the Lakers.

Coach Frank Vogel lobbied for Caruso to be considered a candidate for the NBA’s All-Defensive team on Sunday night.

Vogel had just watched Caruso run the show for the Lakers as the starting point guard, doing so with a self-confidence in the absence of their two primary ballhandlers — LeBron James (right ankle) and Dennis Schroder (health and safety protocols) — still out during a 123-110 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center.

It was more than the three steals Caruso collected that made Vogel feel this way. It was how Caruso defended All-Star point guard Chris Paul and took his turn guarding All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker.

“I think it’s worth mentioning that he has to be considered for All-Defensive team with the way he guards, the way he does everything on that side of the ball,” Vogel said on Zoom after the win. “So, to see him dominate on the defensive end and take control of our offense, to play on both sides, just proves his value to us. And he’s a big reason why we won a championship last year and he’s going to be huge for us in the playoffs this year.”

There also was the season-high eight assists and 17 points that Caruso contributed to the cause.


Highlights from the Lakers’ 123-110 victory over the Phoenix Suns on May 9, 2021, at Staples Center.

Caruso knows he makes his living on defense, so to hear Vogel advocating for him to be on the All-Defensive team was pleasing.

“Yeah, for me, I mean, I’m always appreciative of coach hyping me up a little, my teammates giving me credit, stuff like that,” Caruso said. “That makes me feel good, just because they know the work that I put in, they know how much I want to succeed, the standards I hold myself to. For me, my growth on that end of the court has been fun to watch. Just because that’s kind of how I made it in the league.”

Caruso and backcourt starting mate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were tasked with dealing with the formidable Booker and Paul.

Production-wise, it was a standstill, with both sides combining for 34 points.

Caldwell-Pope had 17 points on four-for-nine shooting from the field, five of five from the free-throw line.

Booker had 21 points and Paul 13.

“We lay our hat on that end,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I felt like this was one of my best defensive games. I felt like I was just engaged the whole game and just ready. Something just clicked. It’s playoff time and we got to get these games. I got to buckle down defensively, which we lean our hat on always. We just got to be able to maintain it.”


Caruso was a stabilizing force for the Lakers.

When their 23-point lead in the fourth was sliced to 17 points, Caruso was re-inserted into the game.

He scored six straight points, helping the Lakers go up by 20. He had two assists down the stretch, showing off his point-guard skills.

“I don’t know, seems like it’s been going pretty well. I don’t know what y’all have been seeing, but from my end, it looks like it’s been going pretty well,” Caruso said about running point. “Obviously I’m a bit of a perfectionist so there’s a couple plays here and there, especially in the Portland game, that I wish I could do over and do better, but I’m just. …

“Every time I’ve gotten an opportunity in my career, I’ve kinda rose to the occasion, and there’s something in me, that competitive spirit, that just desire to be great, the desire to do everything right that just kinda rises to the occasion given the opportunity.”