On July 1, 2015, then free agent DeMarre Carroll announced via Instagram that he would be joining the Toronto Raptors. While many touted the move as another masterful decision to add to Masai Ujiri’s growing list, I was left somewhat confounded. On the one hand, the move seemed to make sense. DeMarre had earned his place in the league, and by his last season with the Atlanta Hawks, averaged just under 13 points per game, shooting nearly at a 40% clip from distance while embracing the 3 and D role.
With hope around Jonas Valanciunas’ development, and the two leading scorers at the guard positions, adding a 3-and-D player that could space the floor, while guarding the opposing team’s best player appeared to be the right move. While I had concerns with the $58 million/4 years contract, viewing it within the context of the rising cap and the team’s expected development, the contract was acceptable.
Two years into his contract, Carroll hasn’t given much reason for hope. After a right knee injury limited him to 26 games in his first season with the Raptors, returning from injury this season proved to be a challenge as he never quite looked like the player that he was in Atlanta.
For the most part, Carroll’s had a challenging season that was largely forgettable. It’s telling that he was relegated to a fringe rotation player by Game 2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, one thing that never waned was his positive attitude.
Despite all of his on-court struggles, the self-proclaimed Junk Yard Dog 2.0 has shown himself to be a consummate teammate and professional. In his limited role as the playoffs wore on, Carroll remained engaged and supportive of the team instead of causing drama and taking away from the team’s focus.
In addition, Carroll had his best performance of the playoffs in the pivotal Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks, with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals on 4-of-6 shooting, giving the Raptors control of the series. Also, for what its worth, DeMarre was involved in four of Toronto’s five best 5-man lineups.
DeMarre Carroll had his worst regular season in four years, before finishing the playoffs averaging 4.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, less than a block and steal per game with roughly 41/32/56 shooting splits. In addition, despite a clear effort to integrate a dribble-drive game to his offensive arsenal, DeMarre’s pump fake and drive attack looked awkward at best, and counterproductive at worst.
On the defensive end, he looked a step slow, and was no where near the presence that the team needed to match up against premier perimeter talents like Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. While his fans may point out that no one can stop such stars, it is important to remember that posing a challenge to players of that ilk is Carroll’s exact role on this Raptors team.
Carroll’s inability to be a factor on either end of the floor resulted in Casey replacing his minutes with the more explosive Norman Powell, and defensive stalwart P.J. Tucker. After playing 15 minutes as a starter in Game 1 against the Cavaliers, Carroll played 19, 4, and 5 minutes off of the bench in the remaining games.
The Grade: D
While it feels wrong or unfair to be so harsh on a player in their first season back from injury, Carroll’s performance cannot be seen as passable for a starting small forward on a team that is looking to challenge for a championship. However, with many Raptors fans were calling for DeMarre to be benched, or even traded, Masai Ujiri made very clear his confidence in Carroll with the following remarks:
“I think DeMarre is going to have a big summer. Because this was, I think this was a healing year for his leg. The best thing about this year for us with DeMarre is he never really complained about the leg. He fought through it. And you can tell it’s getting better. But now DeMarre needs to physically go and work to get back to where he is. Because at the end of the day, that guy is going to be two things in the league: He’s going to be a shooter and he’s going to be a defender. Those are the two things, and we feel he’s 100 percent capable of doing that now that he’s getting over this. There were some down times, there were ups and downs with him, and I think that everyone has seen that. The commitment he is making, he’s disappointed. Everybody is at this time. Being that 3 and D type player is what he’s going to go back to being. We’re confident with everything with his body, he’ll get back there.”
Let’s hope that Masai is right, that DeMarre Carroll recovers and has his best performance as a Raptor this upcoming season. In the alternative, if he is unable to return to form, it’ll be up to Ujiri to find a way to work around his now-unfriendly contract. One thing is for sure: the DeMarre Carroll of the past two seasons wont cut it for these Raptors.