In some ways it should come as no surprise that DeMarre Carroll is the player leading the Atlanta Hawks by example through their first round series.
This is a guy who rarely gets through an interview answer without referring to himself as the Junkyard Dog. Not because it’s contrived or because it’s a persona, but simply because that’s who he really is.
He’s battled harder than most to get this point, and has overcome every obstacle that’s been put in front of him with considerable aplomb. Most people around the NBA had him pegged as little more than a rotational player, but he came into Atlanta and he made a starting spot his own.
Carroll is the player who has been setting the tone for the Hawks in so many ways all season, so it makes sense that he would continue to step up when it really matters.
Somehow he’s still the most under-appreciated guy on the roster, maybe even one of the most undervalued players in the entire NBA.
Maybe the reason that he flies under many people’s radar is that some of the work he does best comes on the defensive end, where people are less inclined to delve too deep, where the yeoman’s work occurs.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer understands the importance of Carroll to what his team does though:
We talk a lot about the only way we are going to be good is if we are good on both ends of the court. DeMarre really sets the tone for us defensively, gives us our spirit and our identity. I just think that end of the court isn’t appreciated enough, isn’t given enough accolades and attention. We’ve got a long way to go defensively, but where we are, he plays a huge role in that.
Carroll’s stellar defense can’t be allowed to go unnoticed, but with frequent talk of how nobody appreciates Carroll’s grind and effort on that end, we have to be even more careful not to ignore his offensive game.
The Alabama native has grown significantly since signing with the Hawks, and as a conscientious and intelligent basketball player he has really blossomed within the intricacies of Atlanta’s offensive sets.
Where a Carroll fastbreak used to look like something reminiscent of car crash TV, he can now execute with relative ease, like with much of the rest of his offense.
He has developed a silky touch for interior passing. Having never offered a true threat from behind the arc, he is now a deadeye shooter. Then there’s his cuts; nobody cuts to the basket better than Carroll.
It’s all starting to show in his numbers too.
Entering tonight, Hawks have been 40.5 points per 100 possessions better with Carroll on the floor, per @ESPNStatsInfo.
— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) April 30, 2015
Carroll is having a colossal Playoff series, as with a number of his teammates visibly struggling, he has stepped up to the plate.
Averaging 15.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 48.9 percent shooting from the field, and a 42.9 percent clip from deep, Carroll is a completely different beast from the one who left Utah a couple of summers ago.
An impending free agent, now the big question is who is going to be the team to step up to the plate and give him the contract he has so clearly earned.
One thing is for sure, based on his recent play there won’t be a single Hawks fan that would happily see him end up elsewhere.
Stay true, Junkyard Dog.