On July 1 2015, Raptor fans were excited to find out that a big free-agent splash was on its way to Toronto. A splash named DeMarre Carroll who will be owed $60 million over the next 4 years. Did it seem expensive at the time? Absolutely. But it was desperately needed, and with Masai Ujiri hard-pressed to make a defensive upgrade in the offseason, it seemed to be the obvious solution.
Terrence Ross made it abundantly clear last year that the Raptors flat out needed a starting 3-man. One that could lock down opposing small-forwards, knock down three-pointers within the framework of the offense, and was not afraid to mix it up against the likes of LeBron, KD, Carmelo, Paul George, etc.
DeMarre Carroll was just that – an adaptable wing that was neither high-maintenance nor a slouch. He simply fits into any offense, presents himself as a tough defender, is an effective slasher and keeps defenses honest with respectable 3-point accuracy. And sure, the word “tough” gets thrown around a lot – but NBA analysts, players, and Atlanta Hawks fans alike can probably all unanimously agree that DeMarre Carroll epitomizes that word. Junkyard Dog 2.0, as he has been named here in TO, simply does whatever it takes to win. Being a 7th year vet that’s worked for everything he has gotten in the league, Carroll’s free-agency this past summer was the realization of several years of his hard work, dedication and a relentless fortitude.
Albeit in just 2 regular season games and a bit of preseason action, DeMarre Carroll has impressed so far as a Toronto Raptor. After a shaky but overall effective start against the Pacers in his debut at the ACC, shooting 5/14 from the field, 3/6 from the line and 1/4 from 3 (probably could just be attributed to opening-night nerves and/or rust), Carroll responded with reasonably stellar efforts against the Boston Celtics on Friday night and last night against the slow-starting Milwaukee Bucks.
With all due respect, matchups against Jae Crowder and Khris Middleton aren’t exactly the litmus tests that will determine Carroll’s true value to the team. The Toronto Raptors have made it clear that this team is beyond their playoff-appearance aspirations, and now are concerned with winning in the playoffs. And to do so, you’ve got to come up big against top talent. So the question is – how does DeMarre Carroll tend to fair against the best in the league at the 3-spot? Let’s take a look at his last season in Atlanta.
1. LeBron James
In 3 games against King James’ Cleveland Cavaliers last season, DeMarre averaged a below season-average of 10.3 points per-game, but shot it at 48% from the field and grabbed 6.7 rebounds per game. From a defensive perspective, LeBron was held to an “average” 23.7 points, and only 5 rebounds and assists per game (this is LeBron we’re talking about). The reality is that DeMarre Carroll is a strong, physical presence that can match up against LeBron James and post respectable defensive numbers. We’re not asking the guy to be a world-beater – just a respectable and consistent defensive option that can hold his own against even the best of the best.
2. Kawhi Leonard
The only reason Kevin Durant isn’t #2 on this list is due to his injury from last year, so we’ll proceed to my #3 – Spurs rising star Kawhi Leonard. In 2 games against Kawhi last year, DeMarre posted a scoring average of 14.5 points, shooting 44% from the field, while grabbing 4 rebounds a game against the defensively efficient San Antonio squad. In those 2 games, Kawhi Leonard was well….Kawhi Leonard. He posted just over 15.5 points, shooting 54% from the field, while grabbing 8 rebounds per game. That’s not to say DeMarre didn’t do his job – but going back to the point, would he have been better against the 2014 NBA Finals MVP than last year’s Terrence Ross? Almost certainly.
3. Carmelo Anthony
Again, Carmelo was injured for most of last season but for what it’s worth, in the 2 games DeMarre faced off against Melo and the Knicks, he was held to just 42% from the field with just over 22 points per game in those 2 games. DeMarre didn’t shoot very well himself, but the defensive presence against Melo was extremely evident. Primarily a perimeter scorer, Carmelo was locked down with tight defense and timely closeouts.
4. Rudy Gay
Paul George would have likely been on this list from 2014/2015 if it wasn’t for his injury, but we’ll leave the opening-night debut against the Pacers as our performance assessment of DeMarre Carroll against PG. While Raptor Fans who may have awoken from a coma since 2013 may disagree, Rudy Gay was one of the top 5 (healthy) small forwards in the league last year. And in only one game against the UConn product in 2014/2015, though Rudy went 10/15 with 23 points, DeMarre posted 20 points on 50% from the field, while grabbing 5 rebounds. The key here is that DeMarre generally doesn’t let a bad defensive game affect his offense, and most importantly, vice-versa.
While some of these numbers may not necessarily stand out in an obvious sense, keep in mind that with Terrence Ross’ struggles at the 3 last year, the seemingly subtle impact of DeMarre Carroll’s presence in the starting lineup night in and night out will almost surely improve the team’s chances in the long run – especially against the big dogs (let’s just hope the run is indeed long).
As Raptors fans, we are all well aware that games are often lost by just a few points – simply one better defensive stand or lockdown by one player can mean the difference in games. And in the playoffs, those plays will mean that much more.
Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Otto Porter (seriously) have all given the Raptors absolute fits in the playoffs. James Johnson was the offseason defensive improvement last summer, and while the improvement was somewhat present early last year, Johnson clearly didn’t prove to be Dwane Casey’s consistent answer. Not to mention, JJ certainly wasn’t the long-term starting lineup solution (which is where the upgrade was needed most – against the opposition’s best small forward).
The playoff impact of DeMarre Carroll was certainly evident last year, with the well-coached Hawks advancing all the way to conference finals behind solid defense and efficient offense against guess who – Joe Johnson and those Brooklyn Nets in the first-round, as well as Paul Pierce (“that guy”) and the Washington Wizards in the second round. That’s not to say it was DeMarre who single-handedly made the difference, but the trend simply cannot be ignored. DeMarre Carroll might just prove to be the missing ingredient in the Raptors’ chase for a playoff series victory.