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Carroll Takes Raptors to Next Level
Every NBA player approaches free agency differently. Some individuals like to meet with as many teams as possible, weigh their options, enjoy the wooing that occurs and take plenty of time as they make their life-changing decision. However, there are some players who dislike the process and want to get a new contract signed as soon as possible.
DeMarre Carroll falls into the latter category.
That’s why the veteran forward was one of the first players to come off of the board this past offseason, agreeing to a four-year deal worth $60 million with the Toronto Raptors on the first day of free agency. Rather than draw things out, Carroll zeroed in on Toronto very quickly.
“It was short and sweet,” Carroll told Basketball Insiders. “I got married, like, three days before free agency so as soon as it started, I wanted [the process] to be short and sweet. My agent knew that. We had a list of six or seven teams that we were truly interested in and we kind of ran with that.
“I think Toronto was the first team to show up at my door and they made the best impression. The first impression is sometimes the best impression, and I felt like they made the best impression. They [made sense] with what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, being a key part of an organization, and that’s why I went with Toronto.”
The marriage between Carroll and the Raptors is off to a good start. He inked his big pay day and has been a key contributor early on. Meanwhile, Toronto opened the season with a franchise-record five-game winning streak and they currently have the Eastern Conference’s third-best record.
Carroll has made an immediate impact on the team with his stifling defense and veteran leadership.
Last season, the Raptors had the NBA’s 23rd-ranked defense (allowing 104.8 points per 100 possessions). Opponents shot 45.9 percent from the field against Toronto, which ranked 27th in the league trailing only the lottery-bound Minnesota Timberwolves, L.A. Lakers, Orlando Magic and New York Knicks.
Improving defensively was the Raptors’ top priority over the offseason, which is why players like Carroll, Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo were added. It’s also why Toronto never made an offer to the offensive-minded Lou Williams, even though he had just won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award and made it clear that he wanted to re-sign (as Williams told me in a July Q&A).
Thus far, the moves look smart. Prior to Carroll briefly being sidelined due to plantar fasciitis, Toronto had the sixth-ranked defense in the NBA – an incredible one-year leap up the rankings even if the sample size is small. Another indicator of Toronto’s huge strides on defense: the Raptors are now holding opponents to 42 percent shooting from the field, which is fifth-best in the NBA. Put simply, Toronto went from having one of the worst defenses in the NBA last year to one of the best units in the early stages of this season.
Carroll certainly has played a large part in that, as he’s known for his terrific perimeter defense and typically guards the opposing team’s best scorer. He has also become an important vocal leader for Toronto, ensuring that everyone is in the right place and giving maximum effort.
“He’s brought toughness,” DeMar DeRozan said of Carroll. “He’s capable of knocking down shots, but he’s definitely [brought] toughness on the defensive end. He gets us going on the floor. He’ll get on Kyle and I, especially on offense, to make sure we’re on top of our game. He keeps everyone in line defensively as well.”
When asked about what Carroll has brought to the Raptors, Kyle Lowry smiles.
“DeMar and I don’t have to worry about guarding the best guys,” Lowry said, making it clear he’s enjoying this change. “That’s his job, and he takes pride in it. He puts everyone in the right position too. He’s that glue guy who comes in every single night and plays his game. He’s going to be All-Defense, in my book.”
Just as he did last year on the Atlanta Hawks, Carroll is making his presence felt for the Raptors with his intense defense, hustle plays and willingness to do the dirty work.
“It’s good to see the defense has changed and to know that you’re a key part of that,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, though, we can just keep getting better defensively and manage to be a top-five defensive team throughout the season. Hopefully the league will take notice. Hopefully ya’ll media can take notice and maybe I can be on an All-Defensive Team one of these years.”
Carroll admits that he felt slighted last year when he was left off of all three of the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams (appearing on only 10 of 129 ballots) and when he received just one third-place vote in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
“Yeah, it motivates me,” Carroll said. “I felt like last year in Atlanta even with us winning 60 games and having a top defense and a top offense, I still was overlooked. It’s one of those things, man. It’s politics, and the media votes. Hopefully with me coming to Toronto, some of y’all media people can see that.”
Carroll made sure to emphasize “ya’ll media” each time he said it. And he may have a point about not receiving enough recognition for his contributions last season. He was a key two-way weapon for the East’s top-seeded Hawks, averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting an efficient 48.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range. Just as he is now in Toronto, Carroll was tasked with guarding the opposition’s best perimeter scorer each night and became one of the NBA’s better three-and-D players.
In addition to posting impressive traditional stats, advanced stats displayed his importance to the team as well. He finished the season ranked fourth among all NBA players in Effective Field Goal Percentage (57.9) behind only DeAndre Jordan, Stephen Curry and J.J. Redick. He also ranked fourth in the NBA in two-point field goal percentage (56.7 percent) – the only non-center to finish in the top five.
Even still, he flew under the radar. Carroll was the team’s lone starter not selected to the All-Star game (although he was included when the NBA gave the “Player of the Month” award to all five Hawks starters after the team went 17-0 in January). The limited credit for his defense is what seems to have really frustrated Carroll though, as he takes a lot of pride in that aspect of his game.
Carroll responded by having a terrific postseason, showing everyone what he could do on basketball’s biggest stage. He was arguably Atlanta’s most consistent player throughout the playoffs, as he averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, two assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from three-point range. At one point, he scored 20 or more points in six straight playoff games (which is even more impressive when you consider that he didn’t have plays called for him and was just scoring within the flow of the offense). His best performance came in Game 6 against the Washington Wizards, when he helped the Hawks advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with 25 points, 10 rebounds and two steals (shooting 64.3 percent from the field and 60 percent from three).
Now, he’s hoping to duplicate that success – individually and as a team – with the Raptors.
“Not too much has changed,” Carroll said. “When I was in Atlanta, I never had a play ran for me. I never had an offensive set ran for me – everything I did was back-door slashing, hitting the open three and running the lane. It’s pretty much the same here. I do think I’m more vocal defensively now than I was when I was in Atlanta, so that’s probably the only thing that’s changed. But everything else, I’ve just been continuing to do the dirty work and be a junkyard dog.”
Really, the biggest change is his contract. Last year, he was a bargain for the Hawks at $2,442,455. Now, he’s the Raptors’ highest-paid player at $13,600,000. He insists that he doesn’t feel more pressure due to his new salary.
“No, you just win,” Carroll said. “The only way you get away from pressure is just win and do your job. I feel like my job is doing it on both ends of the floor – offensively and defensively – and if I can keep doing that and we keep getting wins then I think I’m doing my job.”
One similarity between Atlanta and Toronto is that both teams have a balanced offensive attack. Neither team relies too much on one player, instead having several guys average double digits in scoring. So far this season, DeRozan, Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Carroll are all averaging 12 or more points (with Luis Scola, 9.2 PPG, and Cory Joseph, 8.8 PPG, not too far behind as well).
“[A balanced attack] is very big because other teams can’t key in on a certain guy,” Carroll said. “They might double team DeRozan one game and then myself or Kyle or Jonas or Scola might be open. They might double team Kyle another game and then you have the same thing. When you have five guys out there who can hurt you at any time on offense and who can also go defend well, that’s huge. And that’s the type of team we have here.”
The drastic improvement on defense, coupled with an offense that currently ranks ninth in the NBA, has the Raptors believing they now have what it takes on both ends of the floor to contend.
After Toronto’s 5-0 start (which featured wins over the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder), the Raptors dropped three straight games against the Orlando Magic, Miami HEAT and New York Knicks. Carroll had to sit out the HEAT and Knicks losses due to plantar fasciitis (perhaps further showing his importance to the team).
Even though they’ve come back down to earth a bit, Carroll believes the strong start was very beneficial for everyone involved.
“It’s good for your confidence, good for the team chemistry, good for the coaching staff, good for everybody,” Carroll said. “But we can’t get too high on some wins; we just have to keep getting better. Throughout an 82-game season, you’re going to have some ups and some downs. You’d rather have more ups than you have downs and that’s our goal, while trying to get better and continuing to get us new guys to jell with the old guys.”
Jelling will take time, as every team has to go through an adjustment period when they make personnel changes. Carroll is still getting acclimated, and so are fellow new additions Joseph, Biyombo and Scola among others.
“[Our chemistry] is growing game by game,” Carroll said. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, so we have to take it game by game. I think we need to keep improving; we can’t really dwell on the wins that we’ve been getting. We have to keep getting better and take the wins for what their worth.”
Four and a half months after making his free agency decision, Carroll is satisfied with his situation on and off the court. Toronto is playing well and looking like they could be one of the better teams in the East, and he’s enjoying his new city as well.
“I love it,” Carroll said of Toronto. “I think the fans here are amazing and they really support their team. They’re really behind us and everything you do gets acknowledged by people in the city. I feel like we have some of the greatest fans. They also have a lot of good food places, so I love it. I think the city has a lot to offer. Hopefully they’ll keep supporting us and we can keep winning basketball games for them.”
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