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Why the Playoffs Should Scare You: DeMarre Carroll's uncertain status

The Raptors are playoff bound. But as we've come to learn, the playoffs can be a scary place.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of grasping at straws, trying to find minor areas of weakness that could give Toronto trouble in the playoffs, we've finally gotten to the serious stuff: factors that could legitimately derail the Raptors' hopes of making an extended run this spring.

Individual opposing playersfixable defensive warts and a reliance on getting to the line might be small stumbling blocks once the playoffs get going in under three weeks, but the Raptors have too much talent to allow any one of those concerns to stifle them completely.

There are however, legitimate reasons to fret about the Raptors' playoff prospects, if you're in to that sort of thing. Not only are there some teams that could cause the Raptors fits in a seven-game series, but there is the whole internal question of whether or not the team will even be at full strength by April 16th.

Reason number four to be wary of the playoffs if you're a Raptors fan: the uncertainty surrounding DeMarre Carroll.

Why DeMarre Carroll's uncertain status should scare you

Accurate three-point shooting, an understanding of the value of ball movement and lock down perimeter defense were all elements missing from the 2014-15 Raptors squad that was unceremoniously swept in the playoffs by the Wizards. In response, Masai Ujiri went out and signed Carroll to a handsome four year contract. He was supposed to be the remedy for all those flaws.

It hasn't quite come together as planned for the former Hawk. He's played in just 23 games this year, and was truly healthy for only a fraction of those games as he's battled a combination of plantar fasciitis and a knee issue which required a surgical scope for almost all of his first season in Toronto.

Sans Carroll, Toronto has cruised throughout the regular season, but that doesn't mean the Raptors couldn't use all of the different elements he brings to the table. Though the things he does best haven't exactly been necessary cogs in the machine, Carroll's presence offers plenty of luxuries that could serve as keys to victory in the playoffs.

Without Carroll's willingness to pass and impeccably timed off-ball cuts, the Raptors offense can become more prone to stagnation. Additionally, not having his near-40 percent three-point shooting manning the perimeter leaves the oh so important safety valve in the Raptors' offense slightly clogged. Norman Powell's scorching three-point shooting of late has been wonderful, but it's also completely out of line with how the rookie shot the long ball in college and the D-League. If and when the regression bug strikes Powell, Carroll's dependable accuracy will be a necessity; we saw just how crumpled the Raptors starting five can look when James Johnson started in place of Carroll for 30 games before Powell usurped him.

When Carroll's defense is out of the lineup, you see flashes of the porous play on the perimeter that eventually contributed to the Raptors demise last season. Cory Joseph is a defensive maestro who has really helped to compensate for the loss of Carroll; Powell is good on the ball, as is Johnson -- off-ball, both guys are iffy; Terrence Ross is improved in terms of his focus and intensity, but is still inconsistent; and DeMar DeRozan has taken a noticeable step back on that end this year. It's probably not the fatal flaw it was when Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams were the go-to guys off the bench, but Carroll is such a stabilizer. He relieves the defensive burden of everyone he plays with, when healthy.

Lastly, without Carroll's positional versatility, the number of effective of lineups Dwane Casey can rely upon is diminished. The starting five has suffered all year, not just because of Carroll being out, but his presence would surely help boost it's poor defensive numbers. Casey's original crunch time lineup, the small look featuring Kyle Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas, was electric to start the year, but had it's momentum slowed when Carroll went down. Switchable defensive looks featuring Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo have been out of the question, as have shooting-heavy units that include both Carroll and Ross.

Casey still has solid lineup combos at his disposal, but the selection becomes tantalizingly diverse when Carroll is available. As of right now of course, he is not. And that leads us to...

How scared should you be?

Fear Level: 3 red tracksuits out of 5

In reality, Carroll's return probably doesn't alter the Raptors playoff floor all that much. With or without him, Toronto has a talent advantage against either of its most likely first-round opponents in Detroit or Indiana. Having Carroll around for a Pacers series to guard Paul George with the same tenacity he showed on the first night of the season would be a bonus, but the Raptors can probably eke out a series win against Indiana regardless of Carroll's status based on the pure talent present on both teams.

The heights the Raptors can reach could be elevated by a healthy Carroll, sort of. If we're operating under the assumption that the ceiling of this team is an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, maybe the presence of Carroll's "bulldog" mentality and perimeter defense on LeBron James would allow the Raptors to take a series with the Cavaliers to six or seven hard fought games instead of having it end in four or five.

All that said, a fully operational Carroll would certainly beef up the Raptors' odds of maximizing their potential in the playoffs. Without Carroll in the lineup, there is always a chance that a big, physical wing scorer like George, Jimmy Butler or, gulp, Joe Johnson could bully the Raptors less competent wing defenders over the course of a series.

Powell's emergence has been a pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable surprise that could be crucial for the future shaping of the team, but trusting a rookie in a playoff setting is always going to be a treacherous proposition. It would be unfair to ask Powell do supply everything Carroll can bring. Carroll playing at or close to 100 percent would tighten a lot of this team's loose screws in the playoffs.

Chances DeMarre Carroll's uncertain status scares you in the playoffs?

As has been the case throughout much of Carroll's recovery process, it's kind of up in the air. Carroll seemed optimistic when addressing the media ahead of Wednesday night's game against the Hawks as he indicated that the goal is the play a couple games before the end of the season.

"We're going to try and ramp it up a lot this week and try to get my conditioning back," said Carroll, decked out in his signature red tracksuit.

That's a more positive take on the situation than anything we've heard since Carroll's absence blew past its original six-to-eight week timeline. Still, if it's going to take until the last couple of games for Carroll to get into game-shape, there won't be much margin for error. If Carroll suffers another bout of swelling akin to the one that sent him to a host of doctors a few weeks ago, that might be it for his hopes of playing this year.

As it stands right now though, it's seems realistic to expect Carroll back for the playoffs. Whether or not he will be able to seamlessly blend back into the mix is another question on it's own, but there's reason for hope on that front. On offense, so much of Carroll's job requires him to wait for the open looks created by DeRozan and Lowry's drives to the basket. Should defenses start trapping the Raptors guards in the playoffs, there may be some ball-handling and playmaking onus placed on Carroll's shoulder -- maybe that's where rust and a lack of reps with his Raptors teammates comes into play. Carroll doesn't seem bothered by the short time frame he has to work with though.

"I play defense ... I can impact the game defensively for this team and not have to take a shot," Carroll said. "After playing in the Eastern Conference Finals with Atlanta I understand what it takes and the role I need to play so all I need is a couple games."

Let's hope he's right.

How much does DeMarre Carroll's uncertain status scare you come playoff time?