It’s only three regular-season games, four preseason games, and a handful of intrasquad practices, but Ball and Caruso are showing that getting hands on the basketball on the defensive end is an art form that leads to disruption for the opposing team.
The Ball brothers didn’t have much of a choice.
As Lonzo explained it, dad, LaVar, often had them playing up, so more times than not they were on the basketball court with bigger, stronger kids.
If they wanted the ball in those youth leagues they had to take it.
That’s where Lonzo Ball started working on his craft. When taller players pull down a rebound, position yourself underneath them as they bring the ball down, and slap up. Against players his size, use the long wingspan to tap at the ball, but always play with hands out.
Alex Caruso’s journey was a bit simpler.
Just be an irritant, by all means necessary.
Both have become artists at deflection and disruption, and they just might be painting their “Starry Night’’ now playing for the Bulls.
Or maybe for the opposition it looks more like Edward Munch’s “The Scream.’’
“Hell yeah, it disrupts the rhythm of it, even if they’re not getting steals,’’ All-Star guard Zach LaVine said, when discussing what Ball and Caruso do to another team’s offensive possession.
And that’s the goal.
Get hands on the ball as often as possible on the defensive end. If it leads to a steal like many did in the 97-82 win over the Pistons on Saturday? Great. The Bulls finished with 13 in that win, with Ball and Caruso combining for eight of them.
But causing chaos in those 24 seconds the opposition has to get into an offensive rhythm is the true goal. In just three games and a handful of intrasquad practices LaVine is a believer in the benefits that chaos causes.
“[Ball and Caruso are] so active [defensively] you’ve got to be aware of them,’’ LaVine said. “Even for guys like me and DeMar [DeRozan], it helps us be in the passing lanes more, get some extra rebounds because then guys’ rhythm is off. They’re effort and energy bleeds throughout us as a team.’’
And bleeds out the opposition when it comes to scoring. Yes, it’s only three games, and yes, beating Detroit twice and a winless Pelicans squad doesn’t scream contender yet, but allowing just 94 points per game so far and finishing with the best defense in the preseason isn’t just luck.
“It’s just trying to change the culture,’’ Caruso said of what he’s trying to add defensively. “Defense is all care. It’s just care-factor, effort and execution. Our effort and our care-factor is high. It just comes down to execution. We have all the tools, players and desire to do it.
“I think Lonzo and I have the same mindset on defense, just try and be pests. Blow-up plays, get deflections, anything to start the break, because when we’re in transition you’ve all see we’re really lethal. It’s just about getting stops and getting out there.’’
Caruso entered Sunday with 4.7 deflections per game, which was third in the league. Ball led the Bulls in blocks and was second to Caruso in steals.
And it’s not like the Bulls only want them to be handsy on the defensive end, they need them to be. The concern with this roster coming into the season was the lack of size. Disruption is the equalizer to that shortcoming.
“I think we just know that we’re smaller than a lot of teams so we have to use our quickness and our athleticism to our abilities,’’ Ball said. “And that kind of translates into using hands and coming down and doubling, and when you see the ball, going for it.
“I think everybody has that mindset right now, and I think that’s why we’re getting a lot of deflections as a team.’’