Billy Kennedy's first few seasons at Texas A&M would fall squarely in the disappointing category, especially on the offensive side of the ball, with three sub-500 seasons in-conference. That turned around in a big way last season, boosted by the incoming transfers of Jalen Jones and Danuel House to give Kennedy the best collection of talent he's had since replacing Mark Turgeon in 2011. The Aggies have had some major recruiting success to go along with that as well, putting the program in very good shape to continue to stake their claim among the upper echelon of the SEC.
With more offensive talent in place, Alex Caruso, A&M's versatile 6.5 combo guard, benefited as well, fitting into his more natural role as facilitator and off the ball scorer. Caruso finished the season averaging 9.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in 31.5 minutes per game, shooting 46.3% from the field and 36.6% from three point range. Those numbers don't immediately jump out at you, but Caruso was an important cog in A&M's improved offense.
Despite standing 6-5, Caruso has initiated much of the Aggies' offense over the last few years, leading the SEC in assists two years in a row. He moves the ball well, rarely letting the ball stick for too long and with a knack for recognizing defensive rotations and making the correct reads. His 7.0 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted reflected his good court vision and willingness to set his teammates up, and ranked in the top-20 in our database last season.
Caruso is particularly adept in the pick and roll, where he uses the threat he poses as a shooter, along with good timing and an ability to read and react to how the defense is playing him, to hit both big men cutting to the basket or shooters stationed on the perimeter whose defender may have slid over to provide help.
Caruso played a little bit more off the ball this year than he had in the past, especially as freshman point guard Alex Robinson established himself and began to garner more playing time, and Caruso was able to show off his versatility by succeeding in this role as well. Caruso is an effective catch and shoot threat, connecting on 38.9% of his attempts last season and generating 1.167 points per possession, which puts him in the top 25% of college basketball according to Synergy Sports Technology. NBA teams will want to see him have another consistent year as a shooter, though, as he mostly struggled in this area in his first two seasons of college, and is still only a career 33% 3-point shooter overall. The fact that he's converted only 66% of his free throws overall doesn't bode well for his reputation as a shooter either.
Caruso moves very well off the ball, sliding around on the perimeter to find an opening in the defense's rotation, and with a quick, compact release to get a clean look off before the defense is able to recover. He also cuts well off the ball, making hard cuts to the basket when the defense falls asleep and generating easy looks for A&M's offense.
In terms of creating his own shot, most of Caruso's opportunities come off the pick and roll, where he has some shiftiness to get around the pick and into the paint. When he does so, his main weapon is setting up his teammates, but he also has good touch and balance on a pull-up jumper.
Most of Caruso's attempts at the rim come in transition or when cutting to the basket, where he can surprise you at times with some explosiveness around the rim you may not expect. He doesn't elevate nearly as well in traffic, however, and is a mostly below the rim player when creating his own offense off the dribble. Turnovers have been an issue for Caruso since he arrived at Texas A&M, with his turnover rate hovering around a shockingly high 27% for much of his career.
He can also struggle to finish through contact at times, and could probably stand to benefit from adding some additional upper body strength. Overall, Caruso's more likely to settle for a pull-up jumper or a floater in the lane than to get all the way to the basket when he's creating for himself.
On the defensive side of the ball, Caruso is an engaged defender who operates well within team concepts. He does a good job of sticking with his man off the ball, gets in a good defensive stance, and has extremely quick hands, with his 2.7 steals per 40 minutes pace adjusted among the best figures in our database from last year. Caruso can struggle at times to fight through picks on the perimeter, and he may have issues at times against some of the elite athletes he would face at the next level, but there's enough there to work with.
Caruso certainly has some skills and versatility that are beneficial to an offense, most notably his plus passing ability and his comfort shooting off the catch. While A&M will have a veteran team with most of its major players from last year returning, it would be nice to see Caruso take a larger portion of the A&M offense on his shoulders, as his usage rate has stayed the same all three years he's been in college. If he can show more ability to create off the dribble than he has thus far in his career it would make it easier to envision giving the ball to Caruso enough at the next level where you can really benefit from his passing ability. Additionally, it will be important for him to show that his shooting last season was not a fluke.