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Player Preview 2016-17: DeMarre Carroll, and the quest for health

Last year’s acquisition, DeMarre Carroll’s health has made him more of a question mark than a bedrock for the Raptors. Is this the year he finally heals?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors - Game Four Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Turning 30 is a big deal, whether you’re a regular dude facing existential dread, or a basketball player facing an exit from your prime. In the NBA, there are plenty of players who have impact well into their 30’s, but there’s no doubt that a decade rolling over changes perspective, and changes how we talk about a player, fair or not.

DeMarre Carroll just turned 30, as he enters the second year of a 4-year, $60 million deal with the Raptors. While his delightful fashion sense tells us he’s still feeling youthful off the court, there’s real concern about how young he feels on the court. Carroll played in just 46 regular season and playoff games in 2015-16, often fighting through a myriad of injuries that, when listed out, is fairly depressing.

What’s worse is that he didn’t fully heal over the summer. At media day, Dwane Casey revealed that Carroll was still working his way back to 100%; he had taken a month off at the beginning of summer, and was working his knee back into shape as training camp opened. There are positives, of course. Carroll hasn’t had swelling thus far (which dogged him in the 2016 postseason), and we haven’t heard reports of any of the other lingering injuries he played through: a hyperextended elbow, sprained wrist, hip pointer, and a twisted ankle.

Yeah, it was a lot. It’s completely fair, too, that the Raptors are playing it cautious with Carroll. He looked fantastic in the preseason opener against Golden State, leading the team in scoring, but sat out the October 3 game against Denver. Casey has said he’s on a minutes restriction, with the hope he can play uninhibited when real basketball starts.

Those early winter games aren’t what the Raptors signed Carroll for, though. He’s on this team to make an impact come playoff time, and he’s the team’s X-factor when the spring rolls around. The Raptors need a reliable 3-and-D player to augment the driving attacks of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Carroll can do that, and behind him Toronto has more questionable options — Norman Powell, who has crazy potential but is just a sophomore, and Terrence Ross, who has crazy potential but often plays like he’s on the set of The Fog.

Toronto obviously wants DeMarre Carroll to return to form this season. It’s the form he showed in a 2014-15 campaign with Coach Bud and the boys: winning 60 games, shooting 49% from the field and averaging 12.6 points per game. Here’s some of what we’ll be watching for in hopes that this happens.

Carroll can bring solid wing defence. In promising news, Carroll’s effort negated a sizable drop-off on this end of the floor. We all know he’s one of the league’s elite defenders at the small forward position, and has shown the ability to guard one-on-one as well as in Toronto’s scheme.

In the first round against Paul George, he was very effective, especially in Game 3 when he held the Pacers star to 6-for-19 shooting.

By the time the Conference Finals arrived, though, he was clearly struggling with his health – looking a few steps slow against LeBron James in Game 1.

This added up to a small drop-off in defensive numbers. In the 2015-16 regular season, he had a defensive rating of 101.9 and a net of 2.7. In the playoffs, that dropped to a defensive rating of 106.1 and a net of -5.1. Health, as you would expect, is a factor in playing great defense.

Still, the eye test shows us that Carroll is a pest. He plays the position well, and can frustrate opposing star players. The Raptors will need that come the playoffs, where the usual cast of characters wait; George, James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony all come to mind.

He needs to be an effective 3-point shooter. Last season, Carroll showed a preference for above the break three-pointers. In his 2015-16 shot frequency chart, roughly 32% of all his shots were in those zones.

He’s proficient there too, shooting a combined 41.4% on threes taken from the top of the key and wings.

However, these charts also show some offensive struggles. Carroll tried to add an in-between game last season, saying in the 2015 off-season that he was working toward being a better pick and roll guard. That didn’t work out so well. Though they’re only 25.2% of all the shots he takes, his mid-range percentages were extremely poor. He also struggled to finish at the rim, shooting just 46.1% on shots less than eight feet.

Now look at Carroll’s shot frequency and percentage from his 2014-15 season with Atlanta.

The mid-range attempts were down — from 25.2% to 10.5% of all attempts. He took more shots in the paint (44.9% with Atlanta, 37.7% with Toronto) and more corner threes (cue the romantic sigh), converting both at a clip above the NBA average.

While this has something to do with the players around him — Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague were all capable passers in a free-flowing offense — it also shows how effective Carroll can be when he’s more disciplined with his shot selection. If he can edge toward more efficient three-point attempts from the corners, and get to the rim with more frequency, the Raptors will really be cooking when their best lineups are on the floor. Lowry and DeRozan can create, Carroll and Patterson can make shots, and Jonas Valanciunas can gobble up space inside. It’s dreamy.

This may be assertive considering his health, but for the Raptors to get the most out of Carroll, they shouldn’t be looking for him to add to his game. If he can be the above two things — an elite wing defender and an efficient three-point shooter with excellent shot selection — he’s a pretty darn good asset for a team with one of the best creating backcourts in the NBA.

On the other hand, if Carroll misses significant time against this year, the hope turns to Norman Powell progressing — both in confidence with his 3-point shot, and in becoming a better passer when teams drive him off the line. They’ll also need (gulp) Terrence Ross to be an assertive scorer and not space out on defense.

Luckily, depth has allowed the Raptors to be successful despite DeMarre Carroll’s walking wounded status. Who’s to say how good Toronto will be when he reaches full health?

Stats and video via and Basketball Reference. Shot charts via Vorped.