Alex Caruso is heading into his second year with the Chicago with the clearly defined role of being a defensive leader of the Bulls. It’s a role he’s earned since coming into his own as a Laker, and he’s truly flourished as a two-way monster in Chicago.

When Caruso sat down with NBC Sports to talk about the role, he highlighted how being a two-way stud has made him a fan-favorite in Chicago, a blue-collar city that loves players that work hard and do the gritty underrated work on the court. A description that applies heavily to the Bald Mamba.

“That’s Chicago, though, right?” People put their hard hat on and go to work every day. Rain, sleet or snow, they’re showing up and doing their job.” Caruso said.

“That’s kind of the same mentality I’ve had to have to make it to the NBA and now to stick around. I’m not planning on changing that because that’s really what separates getting to the league and staying in the league — the work. A lot of times, guys come in, and they make it and relax a little bit. You don’t maximize your opportunity. For me, I’m just trying to see how long I can play basketball for, and a lot of that has to do with how hard you’re willing to work.”

Caruso also revealed that one of his personal goals is to make an All-Defensive team. Caruso thinks it’s possible that he would’ve been named to an All-Defensive team, but he got hit with “the injury bug and didn’t get consistent minutes the second half of the season.” One thing he does know is that he’s tough to matchup with, confidently stating that he thinks opposing players “know they’re going to have to work that night.”

When asked about his love for the less glamorous end of the court, Caruso credited his dad, a former player, and coach, with helping him. He also revealed that after he worked Texas A&M games as a child, they used to talk about the game and the other team played while listening to a talk show featuring an Aggie play-by-play announcer and a member of the coaching staff.

“I still did all that. I just always had a knack for defense,” Caruso said. “I had pretty good anticipation. I’m a smart player. In high school, my senior year, I averaged like 4.5 steals a game. I would just start jumping passing lanes. We were a super-aggressive defense. I went from that to kind of honing it in college and then professionally learning how to play. It’s always just been an easy way for me to get on the court. It’s kind of in my DNA.”

Caruso also touched on the relationship he’s formed with LeBron James. The King has been one of the main advocates for Caruso and made it clear that he’s confident in the Bald Mamba’s ability to hoop at a high level. When Caruso was asked about the respect Bron has for him, he said that James helped him “reach new levels of my game” and instilled a high level of confidence in Caruso too.

Caruso also said that he’s “learned so much” from James, including having a strong work ethic, on the court, in the weight room, before practice, after practice. According to Caruso, James just “shows up and plays every night. He’s out there as the best player, No. 1 on the scouting report. and he’s going hard.”

“He helped me reach new levels of my game that I maybe didn’t have the confidence to reach at a certain point in my career. He enabled me to get on the court because we had such good chemistry. I was able to play off him and understand the game. I learned so much just from watching him. Work ethic. Getting in the gym. Working on your body. Making sure you recover. Putting the work in pre-practice. He shows up and plays every night. He’s out there as the best player, No. 1 on the scouting report. And he’s going hard.

Above all, Caruso marveled at the relationship he built with James, and that the “chemistry we formed was validating.” Caruso also believes that James is one of the smartest, if not THE smartest players in the NBA.

“If he’s not the smartest, he’s probably 1A or 1B with Rondo for smartest players that I’ve ever played with. Just as far as the encyclopedia of knowledge they have on players, coaches, sets coaches like to run, how teams like to play, tendencies. All that stuff is stuff I’ve taken and I’m like, ‘All right, I know this guy loves to go left. I know this guy isn’t going to try to get to the rim. He’s going to stay in the midrange so I can stay pushed up on him. This guy is super aggressive; you can backdoor him.’ It’s part of my growth too.”

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