January 16, 2019
$15 million for a player who once fell out of the league sounds odd, but is justified.

During the summer of 2013, DeMarre Carroll parlayed a bit role on a mediocre Utah Jazz team into a two year, $5 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Memphis’ 2009 first round pick was hanging on for dear life in a league that didn’t seem to know where he fit best. He was an athletic, get-to-the basket scorer at Missouri who did the little things, and was finding it tough to get noticed for that in the NBA.

Less than two years later, however, Carroll is to be a Toronto Raptor, agreeing to a four year, $60 million contract to head north of the border.

Nothing much was expected from Carroll going into the 2013-2014 season other than to fill a rotation spot on a potential playoff team. But Carroll came on to start 142 of the 143 games he appeared in over the next two years and was the “glue guy” for a Hawks team that surprised many by grabbing the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference this past season.

Caroll’s role on the team seemed simple – defend, hustle, and hit open threes – but it was absolutely vital, not only to the team’s success, but also to the offensive functionality. The ball movement-based offense popularized by the San Antonio Spurs and brought to Atlanta by head coach Mike Budenholzer required players that didn’t need the ball to score. They needed to move well without the ball, depend on their teammates, look for the extra pass to get a great shot instead of a good one, and above all else, don’t try to do much. The success of this hinged on the fact that Carroll, a player not noted for shooting threes – he only 27 made during four years of college and 27 during four NBA seasons to that point – could become a reliable outside shooter. Budenholzer recognized that just because a player doesn’t have a track record of doing something, it really depends on what he was asked to do within his role previously as to whether or not he can get the job done.

The gamble paid off. Carroll fit right in. He had finally found his niche and the NBA. But as he leaves the place where he felt so comfortable, his departure from the Hawks begs the question: is he easily replaceable?

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Carroll’s transition to almost-forgotten bit player to highly-paid and highly-regarded three-and-D wing would have seemed unimaginable ten years ago, but is coming at a time when a number of trends are converging:

  • The NBA’s salary cap will rise from $67-69 million this season to $89-90 million in 2016-17, and then to even more the following season, making the value of contracts signed this offseason less in the context of long-term economics in the NBA.
  • Teams have drifted more toward creating positional flexibility, mainly the ability to guard multiple positions. This is becoming even more desired after the Golden State Warriors’ success in the NBA Finals.
  • Analytics have championed the importance of the three pointer, especially corner threes, and becoming more efficient on offense by not settling for long two point jump shots.
  • Teams are becoming smarter with regards to the draft, valuing late picks. While drafting and stashing players overseas still happens frequently, teams are beginning to recognize the value in successful college players that have a high level of playing experience, and in spite of whatever basketball deficiency they may have, can bring cost-effective value to a team immediately.

The group below – let’s call them the “Wing and Role” players – constitutes those that have agreed to deals already this offseason.

DeMarre CarrollTOR2009276’7”Four years $60 million
Danny GreenSA2009466’6”Four years $45 million
Draymond GreenGSW2012356’7”Five years $85 million
Khris MiddletonMIL2012396’7”Five years $70 million
Jae CrowderBOS2012346’6”Five years $35 million
Kyle SinglerOKC2011336’8”Five years $25 million

The aforementioned group doesn’t even include guys like Chandler Parsons, who cashed in last summer, or Jimmy Butler, who has ascended beyond this group to the precipice of star territory.

Some of them do more than others. Singler and Crowder may not be starters on their teams, but both will see expanded roles this coming season. Draymond Green, while still honing his jump shot, has become one of the most versatile defensive players in the league. Danny Green fills his role nicely as a shooter surrounding the veteran Spurs, and will look to usher in a new future of Spurs basketball with Kawhi Leonard when Tim Duncan finally steps away. Middleton stepped to the forefront in Milwaukee after being ditched by Detroit following 2012-2013, and will be tasked to play with running mates to Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo on a versatile Bucks front line. They were all linchpins for their respective squads in ’14-15 and all of them were retained – except for Carroll.

There was a time when a guy like Carroll or Danny Green – a long, athletic shooter and the only player in ACC history to accumulate 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 3-pointers, 150 blocks and 150 steals – could be picked up off the scrap heap, like he was by San Antonio at the beginning of the 2010-11 season. But now every team in the NBA is canvasing the landscape for guys that bring the same characteristics. With the demand at an all-time high, the cost of acquiring and keeping the desired talent has skyrocketed, which is what drove Carroll to Toronto. Atlanta had to have money to pay Paul Millsap, and the limited Early Bird rights the Hawks had on Carroll meant it was going to be really difficult for them to free up enough money to offer Carroll what he would command on the open market. If you’re Carroll, a player whose value has skyrocketed over the course of two years and who has seen the highs and lows of the NBA, it would be extremely difficult to turn down what he was going to command outside of Atlanta.

For Toronto, it may have cost them a mint in 2014-15 terms, but in long term value, Carroll could turn out to be a bargain.

The $15 million average value per year of Carroll’s contract is just the cost of doing business right now, and while the yearly number will seem large in present value, occupying approximately 21% of the Raptors cap, that percentage will drastically drop as the league cap number moves over the next two seasons.

YearAct Val15-16 Val% of CapCap
15-16 $15 million $15 million21% $70 million
16-17 $15 million $11.67 million17% $90 million
17-18 $15 million $9.72 million14% $108 million

On the basketball side, Carroll will be asked to bring, at minimum, the exact same things he brought to the Hawks attack.

With the Hawks, Carroll was the fifth wheel amongst four 2015 All-Stars – Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Al Horford and Paul Millsap. His offense wasn’t needed, but was welcomed when necessary. When you have Teague attacking out of the pick-and-roll, Korver being fed for open threes off of the multitude of screens they would set for him, Horford operating out of the high post and the inside-outside game of Millsap, it’s easy to get lost when you’re seemingly just standing in the corner.

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Although Toronto doesn’t have the same firepower from outside, Carroll, outside of his 39% shooting from deep last season, has also shown the ability to attack off the dribble or the cut. His two point and effective field goal percentages were good enough for fourth in the NBA last season and according to Basketball-Reference, almost 43% of his shot attempts came from within 10 feet. Couple that with 47% of his shot attempts coming from three point territory and you have a player that rarely settles for inefficient offense. He’ll fit in well on a team that was fourth in offensive efficiency by knowing the value of the three-pointer (eighth in three point rate) and getting to the free throw line (eighth in free throw rate). An expanded offensive role could show Carroll was actually being underutilized in Atlanta.

On defense, Carroll is exactly the type of player the Raptors lacked last year as their defensive efficiency dropped all the way to 25th in the league – versatile wing defenders who can guard multiple positions and rotate quickly. As was touched on early on the season by BBALLBREAKDOWN colleague Matthew Way, the Raptors don’t ICE pick-and-rolls like more teams are doing. Instead, they hedge and recover, which can be difficult to do when you don’t have the requisite defensive ability to carry the strategy out. No one on their team can really be counted as a plus defender, and for all of his size in the middle, Jonas Valancinuas has not risen to the level of rim protector yet. Throwing Carroll into the mix will allow the Raptors to carry out their scheme (if it remains the same) more effectively, while also forcing sub-par defensive teammates onto lesser offensive opponents, as Carroll will likely take the primary perimeter wing defensive assignment. The addition of first round pick Delon Wright, one of the most versatile collegiate defenders in the nation last season, also helps in this regard.

It appears that Carroll will replace 2012 lottery pick Terrence Ross in the starting lineup. Ross has shown the ability to hit threes and dunk, but hasn’t expanded his scoring repertoire or defensive prowess enough to warrant another year as the starting small forward. But there also exists a scenario right now where Ross remains in the starting lineup, alongside Carroll at power forward.

Amir Johnson’s departure to Boston leaves a hole from the Raptors’ 2014-15 lineup. Patrick Patterson could step into that void and provide an offensive versatility that Johnson didn’t possess, which would spread the court for Lowry and DeRozan to attack off the dribble while keeping Carroll at his traditional small forward position, but Carroll could also do this. If he was to move to power forward and Ross remained in the lineup, Carroll has shown he is physical enough to man the position, even though he was rarely was assigned to an opposing power forward due to the presence of Millsap and Horford.

I don’t believe these two options point to plausible scenarios. I see them as indications of further roster holes.

Carroll is probably going to make this team better defensively, regardless of assignment, and he may even thrive in a larger role offensively, but he will not cure all that ails Toronto. Their current roster, although talented, is flawed. A rotation consisting of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Carroll, Patterson, Ross, Valancinuas, James Johnson and Wright is definitely versatile, but lacks firepower off the bench and rebounding, especially with the departure of Amir Johnson. They have flirted with big names like LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews in recent days, and so it appears that, despite the lack of cap space, general manager Masai Ujiri is not done. Which is good, because neither is the task at hand.

The Eastern Conference is still bad and the Raptors remain the favorites in the Atlantic, but it appears Ujiri has his eyes set on more. But if Carroll was the only move, in spite of the cost, it was the right one.

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Jeff Feyerer

Jeff is a former basketball coach, sports marketing professional and writer, currently working as school financial administrator in Chicago. In addition to work for BBALLBREAKDOWN, he writes for Nylon Calculus, plays with spreadsheets, tries to defend college basketball and looks forward to the Fred Hoiberg era. Follow his musings on Twitter at @jfey5.

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