The Chicago Bulls were dealt a devastating blow with the news that starting point guard Lonzo Ball would be undergoing a second procedure in the last eight months – and third overall – on his right knee.
This time, the surgery is to remove damaged cartilage in hopes of alleviating the persistent pain he has experienced in his recovery process.
Ball is going to be re-evaluated in 4-to-6 weeks with hopes of establishing a new timeline for his return which is all but assured to extend well into the regular season. With that the Bulls have been faced with a conundrum that has monumental implications, not only for the start of their season but also on how far they can go in the postseason should they get there.
So, who should they tap to fill in during his continued extended absence?
Alex Caruso the Safe Bet
“When the regular season ended, when the time came to win or go home, Donovan did what most coaches do,” Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic points out. “He trusted his veteran. He sat rookie Ayo Dosunmu and started [Alex] Caruso at lead guard. It helped the Bulls take Game 2 in Milwaukee and revealed much about Donovan’s decision-making. It’s why Caruso has to be considered the favorite for the opening-night starter in place of Ball.”
The jury seems to be split on whether or not Caruso should be inserted into the starting lineup. On one hand, the Bulls’ net rating was plus-5.3 with him on the floor with the other starters in the regular season, per Cleaning the Glass.
The group that Mayberry is pushing for had a minus-22 net rating in the playoffs.
There is also the matter of his minutes. As explained by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley, Caruso has been most effective playing around 27 minutes. For that reason, says Cowley, he remains a better option coming off of the bench.
A Word of Caution on Caruso
“As obvious of an impact as Caruso makes,” continues Mayberry, “he still isn’t recognized as a starting caliber point guard. To his credit, a part of that notion is due to his playing style. His relentless, sometimes reckless, effort doesn’t allow for starter minutes. He averaged only 1.4 minutes per game more as a starter than he did as a reserve last season — and his body took a beating for all of them.”
Mayberry’s insight shows that, just because Caruso might start, does not mean that he has to log heavy minutes.
Caruso’s three-point shot (33.3% 3P) and lack of pick-and-roll prowess (0.8 points per possession) are concerns. The Bulls were dead last in three-point shot attempts last season as well as being one of the heaviest users of the pick-and-roll in a league that features it heavily.
Still, Mayberry ultimately concludes that the five-year veteran offers “the most pros and has the least cons”.
“The Bulls desperately need Caruso’s defense, smarts, and leadership to set the tone. In a perimeter-oriented game, Chicago has to trot out someone who can contend with the league’s best wings.”
Bulls Have Options at PG
Caruso, even as the starter, should leave plenty of meat on the bone for another playmaker to stand out. Of the Bulls’ current options, Dosunmu seems best equipped to take over some of Ball’s duties.
But the Bulls will be leaning on 36-year-old Goran Dragic as well. He did look good playing for Slovenia in the FIBA EuroCup 2022.
Some of the Bulls’ most-effective lineups without Ball featured Coby White.
And yet White has seemed like the odd-man out. That is despite him having the most experience in the system and playing alongside LaVine, Patrick Williams, and Nikola Vucevic more than the other options the Bulls have.