That requires some context, such as who plays alongside them in those lineups. It’s worth noting that just about everyone gets a net rating boost while playing alongside a player as dominant as James. But it’s a number that Coach Frank Vogel and his staff also track closely, and they’ve had to acknowledge it as the season has progressed.“There’s the eye test, but LeBron and Alex is … one of our best combinations throughout the season from a net rating standpoint,” he said last week. “We’ll continue to explore ways that that’s getting out there enough without overdoing it.”If you took a poll of fans, many of them would very much want to overdo it. If this lineup is so good, they cry, why take out Caruso at all?These discussions lack nuance. There are a lot of assumptions being made about the push and pull of Caruso’s minutes, which admittedly have fluctuated even during a stretch when he’s been productive. There’s the assumption that there is a direct correlation with the minutes of veteran Rajon Rondo, who many fans are loudly calling to be benched seemingly forever. There’s the assumption that more minutes automatically translates to more production and bigger leads. There’s the assumption that Vogel and his staff will use the regular-season rotation when the Lakers enter the playoffs.These very off-kilter guidelines serve to skew what Caruso is: a helpful complementary player. His one truly elite skill is his defense. Cleaning the Glass has him among the 95th percentile at his position in steal percentage (2.8), and he has had consistently good games defensively. He’s also a better-than-average offensive rebounder. But Caruso is also an OK 3-point shooter (35 percent) and a solid but not spectacular assist man (12.8 percent, just 20th percentile among guards). He’s never scored more than 16 points this season, in a game he played 30 minutes.If you projected Caruso’s numbers out to per 36 minute figures, he’d only average 11 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. These are not eye-popping numbers. It’s also worth noting that Vogel himself said Wednesday that Caruso’s minutes are not in direct contrast with Rondo’s: He’s also used as a wing, which means he’s competing with Danny Green, Avery Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for minutes as well depending on how the Lakers want to use him.What Caruso doesn’t do might be just as valuable as what he does. He doesn’t dribble endlessly in isolation nor does he turn the ball over. He doesn’t take half-baked jumpers. He doesn’t flub shots at the rim (67 percent, 95th percentile). He doesn’t get totally burned on defense because he was taking a possession off (the Lakers have a 100.0 defensive rating when he’s on the floor versus a 107.8 defensive rating when he’s off).Caruso doesn’t hurt a basketball team, which is as valuable a skill as any when you’re playing alongside stars like James and Anthony Davis, who can produce numbers on their own. Davis mentioned Wednesday that Caruso always seems to be in the right spot at the right time.“I didn’t know much about him before I got here, to be honest,” he said. “I knew he is pretty athletic, that was pretty (much) it. The more and more I got to be on the court with him and just see him in practice, he’s surprising me every day with his ability.”There is very real chemistry between Caruso and the Lakers’ best players, which comes out particularly in the transition highlights that linger in our memories. It shouldn’t be over-valued, as it has been by some fans, but it shouldn’t be under-valued either. It seems evident that Caruso’s overall contributions are getting the recognition of the coaching staff which will likely have to shorten the rotation come April.In the meantime, the patience required is best displayed by Caruso himself. He lauds teammates like Rondo and Avery Bradley when they have good games, and he says he understands when he gets shorted out of the rotation at times. And having the grace to perform well when he’s called upon while also not blaring his desire to play more might just be the reason why Caruso has found his best professional fit this year.“It’s just a process of trying to win games and be the best team we can be and I think one of the positive things about our team is that we have really sacrificial guys,” he said. “Everybody on the team just wants to win.”— Kyle GoonThanks for reading the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.A C(lick) FreshLeBron vs. Zion – It lived up to the billing, but also reflected how far Zion still has to go before he can touch the King.The Lakers’ new addition – Markieff Morris talked about choosing the Lakers and the possibility that he moves in with his twin brother, Clippers forward Marcus.The Next New Orleans Hope – Mirjam took a closer look at the wide shoulders of Zion Williamson who has raised the bar for the Pelicans.Kobe and Gianna, remembered – Vanessa Bryant and other speakers at the Celebration of Life gave us the most intimate picture of the Bryant family that we’ve ever gotten.Hurting inside and out – Even the folks who did not get tickets still found an emotional experience outside of the Staples Center memorial.Crosstown respect – Doc Rivers and the Clippers reflected on the memorial to Mirjam.A possible Finals preview? – Jim Alexander and the possibility that the Celtics-Lakers rivalry could see another epic chapter.More on Caruso – Friend of the newsletter Pete Zayas (LakerFilmRoom) went to the tape on Caruso’s fit with his superstar teammates. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error This is the Wednesday, Feb. 26 edition of the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.LOS ANGELES — LeBron James knows how this stuff works because he’s been the front-runner countless times.As Alex Caruso dashed ahead of him on the fast break, heading quickly toward E’Twaun Moore, James shouted ahead: “Trailing middle! Trailing middle!”The signal had been sent. It was up to Caruso to get it behind him. So he did it through his legs, a panache that LeBron can appreciate. After all, James did it himself back in December on a pass to Dwight Howard. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersThis pass, like James’, turned into one of the most memorable highlights of the season: a towering one-handed jam by James as Josh Hart looked up helplessly. The Staples Center crowd stood up for two possessions afterward, buzzing with excitement.“Listen, myself and AC, we work well together,” James said. “AC has eyes in the back of his head and for me to be able to finish it, it’s a good play for our ballclub. A momentum play. Our fans loved it and it’s great to be a part of it.”Caruso, the 25-year-old former G-Leaguer, creates a few of these momentum plays per game. On Tuesday night in the victory over the Pelicans, he also had a jaw-dropping block of a Lonzo Ball shot, and an and-one layup that got his bench jumping.Such plays are anecdotal evidence that Caruso is a truly essential rotation player for the Western Conference-leading Lakers. Along with his meme-ability, it’s created an unusual mix for a compelling fan favorite. But added to the statistical evidence, his case for a more consistent role is impossible to ignore.Even many of the casual fans now know that Caruso and James form the two-man combination with the highest net rating in the NBA. For the uninitiated: This is a measurement of how players outscore their opponents per 100 possessions. A duo that keeps the score of a game perfectly tied would have a net rating of zero. James and Caruso outscore opponents by 24.7 points for every 100 possessions they share on the floor together, more than any other pairing that has played at least 150 minutes.