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Fred VanVleet, Alex Caruso, Jose Alvarado & The Art Of Hands

It’s becoming harder and harder to be the little guy in the NBA. 

I mean, it always was difficult for shorter players to survive and thrive amongst giants, but now more than ever, with an increased emphasis on positionless basketball, length, and size reign supreme at every position. 

For the smaller players to survive, they need to buoy tremendous outlier skills that allow them to ‘cheat the system’ in order to stay on the floor and remain impactful defenders. 

One of those outlier skills? Great hands. 

I’m not talking about George Constanza’s hand-model hands here – I’m talking boulders. The types of hands that you see in Karate videos where they use just their palm to shatter bricks with one blow. The type of hand speed you wouldn’t want to play wack-a-mole against. 

Don’t get me wrong, in today’s pace & space era, length, and size are still extremely important defensive tools, but they’re nothing without excellent hand-eye coordination, timing, and awareness to put the whole puzzle together. 

That becomes ever more important when you don’t have the requisite size and length – because you need to overcompensate with uncanny timing and hand-eye coordination. 

Fred VanVleet, Alex Caruso, and Jose Alvarado can all not only hold their own but thrive on the defensive end. 

All 3 are great positionally, they rarely ever make mistakes and are always seemingly in the right spot at the right time but what makes them special as smaller defenders… is their incredible hands. 

Their hands help all three of them average more than 2 deflections and 1 steal per game, all through digs, swipe downs, stunt-n-recovers, poke-outs, and peskiness in the passing lanes to muck up things at the point of attack.

Alex Caruso:

Caruso is a near-perfect team defender. Watch the way he navigates screens, all while keeping his hands active in the action. Whether it is a ball screen, an off-ball screen, or a DHO, Caruso finds a way to get a limb in there on contact. He’s 2nd in total deflections this season, just behind defensive maestro Dejounte Murray and a lot of those deflections are because of his peskiness on the ball.

Precision in these moments is crucial. A single centimeter off and you’ll get called for a foul or worse, get your arm stuck in there. Caruso thrives in this department. His accuracy on poke-outs, digs, and swipe-downs when an offensive player is driving the ball is superb. Couple that with his 6’4 frame, and you have a guard defender that isn’t going to get hunted on mismatches.

Watch these clips below and honestly just marvel at how accurately he uses his hands.

Fred VanVleet:

While Caruso uses his pin-point accuracy and wack-a-mole speed to cause damage, VanVleet uses brute strength.

That might surprise you because he is probably 6 feet tall on a good day, but FVV has the innate ability to just rip the ball clean away from you… and it doesn’t matter what position you play. This time last year, VanVleet was leading the league in deflections (eventually finishing 2nd for the 21-22 season), strong-arming the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid on digs and wreaking havoc off the ball.

After all, that is where VanVleet does the most damage with his hands. Usually, it’s the taller, lankier defenders fill up passing lanes but VanVleet is two steps ahead on most of his rotations, so he can telegraph where the pass is going. His anticipation is phenomenal. He can tag a roller or stunt-n-recover to help wall off the paint.

Oh and most importantly, you just can’t turn your back on him if you’re in the post. He will make you pay.

Jose Alvarado:

Okay, so Caruso, precision. VanVleet, strength. What’s Alvarado’s unique trait?

Making himself small.

Grand Theft Auto is a wonderful (and accurate) nickname for him. But if we could re-write history and pick a new nickname? Ant-Man wouldn’t be out of the question.

Alvarado is famous for his ability to make himself invisible in order to steal inbound passes. It’s genius. And people fall for it all the time. He does that, though, by making himself incredibly small. Alvarado sneaks and creeps his way into crevices and takes advantage of his quickness to be like a ninja on defense. It’s not just on inbound passes, he routinely does this off-the-ball in a half-court setting too, hiding behind defenders to anticipate a cross-court pass.

In that regard, he’s sort of a blend between Caruso and VanVleet. Precise, quick, and a helluva pest.

These three small guards have found ways to succeed on defense despite their lack of size. They’re quick. They use their hands. And they’re highly intuitive.

Every positive impact play on defense for a small guard like VanVleet, Alvarado, or Caruso is a win and these 3 make those plays consistently.

There are others out there. But these three have carved out careers and minutes for themselves because of one common character trait:

Elite hands.