When the Toronto Raptors, a summer ago, committed $64 million over 4 years to DeMarre Carroll, the hope would be that the acquisition would propel the team past the first round, and help them establish themselves as one of the elite teams in the league. 56 wins and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals later, mission accomplished, right? We can say that this was truly a successful signing, and no one could possibly question the contract, right? If it were that simple, I’d tell you that Carroll was going to have a great year and end the profile at that. But last year wasn’t that unmitigated success for DeMarre due to health concerns, even if the Raptors got where they wanted to be.
Last year the injury problems started early in the season for Carroll, with a story breaking early in November that he was dealing with plantar fasciitis. After playing 35.6 MPG in the first 6 games of the season, Carroll then missed the next 3 games, from November 8th through 11th, and upon return averaged 33.6 minutes over the next 12, before, on December 7th, being ruled out indefinitely with a bruised right knee. Carroll would go on to sit the next 9 games, before returning on December 26th to play five more games, before sitting out yet again with knee issues and requiring surgery on January the 6th. He would go on to miss the next 41 games and return in April to play 3 games late in the season, and DeMarre was active for the entire playoff run for the Raptors, although he never looked truly himself.
We could talk about the handling of the injuries by the Raptors, and the questions over whether a player returning from injuries should be playing more than 30 minutes a night, and whether that contributed to the ongoing problems that Carroll had. But some good did come of all the time missed last season. There’s certainly something to look at there going forward with how the team handles injuries and works towards bring players back. If not for Carroll’s injuries, however, the Raptors never would’ve found the playing time for Norman Powell, and he wouldn’t have been able to develop so quickly.
The Raptors acquired Carroll to defend bigger small forwards in tough matchups, something that neither DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross is capable of doing. Carroll in pre-season has shown signs that he might be returning to that player again. In Atlanta, prior to the acquisition, DeMarre had the best season of his career, proving to be an effective, tough defender, and on shooting 48.7% from the field and 39.5% from downtown. The Atlanta offense felt tailor-made for his skillset as well, being built around passing and generating the best shot available.
(Courtesy: Austin Clemens)
In Toronto, the offense wouldn’t seem as well-fit for DeMarre, as the Raptors rank near the bottom of the league in assists, while the Hawks are perennially in the upper echelon in that category. However, Carroll was able to find his niche as an off-ball player here as well, working off DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s ball-heavy attack and using their frequent double teams to find open 3-point shots. Despite taking a much smaller percentage of his 3pt attempts from the corners than he did with the Hawks, Carroll still managed to hit 39% of his shots from long-range last year, and had an impressive 48.3% effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot opportunities. His field goal percentage, on the other hand, dropped from 48.7% in 2014/15 to 38.9% last year. A lot of this might be attributed to the Raptors asking him to create some of his own offense, and Carroll didn’t look comfortable doing this, as he struggled to score off the dribble. Whether this remains part of the Raptors offense this season remains to be seen.
The Raptors intended starting lineup from a year agi, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas played in only 15 games last season, partially due to Carroll’s injuries and partially due to missed games from Valanciunas, and never managed to fully find it’s footing. This year the starting group looks to be similar, with Jared Sullinger playing in the place of Scola, who departed during the summer. Although Sullinger appears to be a far better fit than Scola, the group still has to prove they can be an effective unit this season, to lessen the dependence on the bench being strong in order to keep the team in games, and a lot of that will depend on how much the team can get from Carroll this year. While Ross and Powell behind Carroll remain capable players, neither of them truly replaces Carroll’s defensive role and if DeMarre can’t give the team a healthy, effective season it’s hard to see the Raptors returning to the Eastern Conference Finals, or pushing further come the spring.Follow @raptorsrepublic