When the Pelicans acquired Tyreke Evans two offseasons ago, questions quickly sprung up about his ability to play small forward. After two years of evaluation, Evans answered those questions definitively with his dramatic improvements when playing a guard position instead of small forward, something that he had already done in Sacramento.
To fill the small forward position after Evans moved to point guard during an injury-riddled year, the Pelicans traded Austin Rivers for Quincy Pondexter. It was a season-saving move for New Orleans. However, after a tough series for Pondexter against Golden State, Pelicans fans were reminded that he was only a temporary starter if this team hoped to seriously contend for more than just a playoff berth.
As much as I hate to intrude on the Hawks during their mourning period, DeMarre Carroll's talents and ideal fit mandate immediate attention. While Carroll used to be a blue-collar, defensive-minded player who could score against relaxed defense, his game has blossomed to new levels under Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer.
That's not to say he cannot defend and score when left unguarded, and do it with sweat dripping down his face. In fact, hard-nosed defense is still his best quality.
Yes, I know Lebron James looked like a combination of Magic Johnson, Dominique Wilkins, and Michael Jordan against Atlanta, scoring 30.3 points with 11 rebounds and 9.3 assists on average.
News flash: Lebron is a tough guy to stop, especially when he's bringing the ball up half of the time. And while Lebron leisurely led his team into the Finals, the Hawks secretly did a halfway decent job of defending him. It sounds crazy, but the King shot only 43.8%, 4.5% worse than his season average, and only 25% from deep.
His averages were absurd, but the Hawks forced Lebron into tough shots. The passing lanes were wide open as a result, but that's the price any team that wants to stop Lebron has to pay.
Moreover, in the regular season, Lebron shot 41.7% when Carroll was on the court. With Carroll as the closest defender, Lebron shot only 1-8 with Carroll as the nearest defender, according to Zach Harper of CBS Sports. Lebron shot 64% against the Hawks when Carroll was off of the floor and the Cavs were +4.7 instead of -10.2.
So, those playoff percentage drops that Lebron experienced were no coincidence. That was because of a great defensive system filled with great defensive players, the best arguably being DeMarre Carroll.
That was not just Lebron either. Opponents field goal percentages dropped by 3% when guarded by Carroll. And the Hawks assigned Carroll to any position from point guard to power forward, as they had enough faith in him and the others to guard a multitude of positions.
He's the perfect defensive fit on a Pelicans team that had problems guarding small forwards. Well, the Pelicans had trouble against a lot of positions, actually, because of the injuries to various guards. The good news is, Carroll can extinguish the problems associated with those positions because of his versatility.
Carroll's effort only adds to his ability. After a college transfer, a D-League stint, and failed try-outs with several NBA rosters, Carroll built a thick skin and toughness that prepared him to never stop working and take nothing as a given.
"I think he's just a hard-nosed player. I feel like he's very grateful of this opportunity he has and this team that he's in. He's OK with the challenges. He knows everybody is going to try to single that match-up out, but it's our team. We all have his back. We're all there to get stops," teammate Al Horford said.
So, hopefully it's apparent that Carroll is a defensive stopper. However, he brings that same tenacity and intelligence to the offensive end, as well, contributing to his quiet average of 12.6 points per game.
Carroll scores several ways, all perfect for the Pelicans preferred system.
First, Carroll scores with backdoor cuts against an overextended defense. If the defense cheats on help or slacks off, Carroll is the first to notice and darts to the danger zone. With an accurate assist-man like Teague (or Holiday), that's two every time.
Next, Carroll spots up from all over the court. Carroll is not a great shooter while fading away or on the move, but if he can catch and set his feet, he shoots it with confidence and consistency. Carroll shot 39.5% from three this year, 17th best in the league. His attempts mostly came from corner camps and behind the wall of Millsap or Horford.
Finally, Carroll scores in transition off of his own steals or a teammate's. Carroll is fairly athletic and, even if he wasn't, those are free points on the fast break. No matter what system he played in, those baskets are guaranteed.
Carroll's 12.6 points would greatly help the Pels every game, but not as much as the way he scores. His long-range threat would be similar to Pondexter's, forcing teams to pay if they help off of him.
The fast break points and back door cuts would be a new commodity for the Pelicans. Both are automatic points created by work rate without the basketball. New Orleans has too many players that need the ball in their hands; it's beneficial and necessary for this team to only sign players that don't, especially when those players can score.
Carroll has the right-sided drive in his arsenal too, but he only uses it if a better shot is not forthcoming. For the Hawks, better shots were always imminent.
Carroll's smarts, style, and skills allowed him to shoot 56.7% from inside the arc. That was fourth best in the league, with the next closest non big man being Lebron James at 53.6%. Carroll's efficiency is amplified when you consider he turns the ball over only slightly more than once a game.
And in the playoffs, his scoring improved to 15.1 points per game, while he shot 49.4%. In other words, he has the clutch gene...if it exists.
What else can I brag on this guy about? Rebounds and durability, that's what. Both come in healthy portions that won't overpower you, but are reliable and impressive.
Carroll averaged 5.3 rebounds per game last year, the same as Evans. It's not an amazing average, but it's enough to keep your team on pace to win the rebounding game. More importantly, his rebounds are steady throughout the years, with his per-36 averages coming out to 6.1, 6.2, and 6.1 respectively for the past three seasons.
Carroll has also stayed relatively injury free, playing over 70 games in each of his two seasons with Atlanta. Although health is never assured, Carroll has no preexisting injuries or worrisome bugs to flash a yellow light over.
The ideal Pelicans system is one in which the team plays a fast break oriented pace, with great individual defenders to prevent mismatches. Carroll can run, and quickly position himself for a trailing three in transition. And defensively, he would bring the Pelicans grand total of elite defenders to three, alongside Davis and Holiday.
He's affordable, available for likely $8-10 million annually by my estimation, and in his prime, 28. He's a good fit for the system. He's a hard worker by all accounts on and off the court. And he has great hair. What more could you ask for?
While I'm not convinced Carroll is the last piece the Pelicans need, I think there is a possibility he is considering Davis's continual development. Carroll gives the team another versatile defender and great perimeter shooter, but pushes Pondexter and one of Evans/Gordon/Holiday onto the second unit with Ryan Anderson to scorch NBA backups.
With a great coach, a Pelicans team with Carroll would have the star power, shooting, depth, and defense to compete with the best of the West. New Orleans must put DeMarre Carroll atop its offseason shopping list. Carroll will be coveted by many teams, however, so Dell Demps and the management must pull out all the stops to make this happen. If that means a second Special Man Plan commercial specializing in Carroll recruitment, I think there would be no arguments from fans. As for the players, their embarrassment would reap rewards in the long run.