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Hawks get what they need from 'Junk Yard Dog'

Journeyman Carroll making most of career turning point

POSTED: Apr 21, 2015 11:32 AM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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DeMarre Carroll brings toughness, defense and personality to the No. 1-seeded Hawks' lineup.

— Things have a way of working out in DeMarre Carroll's life, be it on the basketball court or off it.

Every setback has a corresponding blessing. Every unforeseen hurdle is followed by a path cleared by hard work, determination and the grind of the man who is quick to embrace his "Junk Yard Dog" persona.

So this current renaissance for the Atlanta Hawks' starting small forward is another of those blessings, an opportunity snatched up at the intersection of a life well lived and the focus and energy required to take advantage of yet another opportunity to prove himself.

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Carroll's two-season run with the Hawks marks the turning point in his career. From a journeyman, and that's putting it kindly, in his first four seasons of pro ball, to a staple for one of the best teams in basketball this season. Carroll saw his name on the back of four different NBA jerseys (Memphis twice, Houston, Denver and Utah) in those first four seasons, trying times that saw him start just 22 games.

He's started 142 of the 143 regular-season games he's played in during his two seasons here, having established himself as one of the league's elite perimeter defenders and a key lineup cog for the Eastern Conference's best team this season.

The model for the Hawks' man-in-the-mirror approach to player development, Carroll is the only one of the Hawks' starters who did not spend All-Star weekend in uniform at Madison Square Garden. But he's arguably their most important player in this first-round series with Brooklyn, tasked with the defensive assignment of guarding Joe Johnson. As well, he's there to pick up the offensive slack as frontcourt mates Al Horford and Paul Millsap struggle with injuries and rhythm issues.

We have guys that want to work. They come out here and they are working hard on their game, on the team. And it's shown. In the two years (we've been together), DeMarre Carroll is the perfect example of that.

– Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford, on DeMarre Carroll

Without the career metamorphosis he's lived through since signing with the Hawks and being coached by Mike Budenholzer and his staff, this role might have been left to someone else. Likely, it would be another player with impeccable timing and a willingness to study and change his game to make good on his enticing NBA promise.

"I just feel like we have a group of guys who have bought in 100 percent into what Coach Bud is preaching to us," Horford said. "We're just trying to be better. We have guys that want to work. They come out here and they are working hard on their game, on the team. And it's shown. In the two years (we've been together), DeMarre Carroll is the perfect example of that. He's gotten so much better since he's been here. It impresses me to see the level that he's playing at. And I think he's only going to get better, because he works and he's smart about how he trains."

Nets coach Lionel Hollins, Carroll's coach in Memphis during his rookie season, commended Carroll for the maturity he's shown in becoming a mainstay for the Hawks. Hollins and the Grizzlies drafted Carroll No. 27 overall in 2009, but tossed the "Junk Yard Dog" to the dogs early in his career, a move forced by an injury to Zach Randolph.

Carroll got burned during that trial by fire.

"Coach Hollins, he is a great coach," Carroll said. "At the same time, this situation was better for me, better opportunity. I might have matured a little bit over the years. But I think I'm still the same player. It's just me getting better and coaches really paying attention to detail with me, really working with me. I have to give credit to (former Hawks assistant and now Utah coach) Quin Snyder, he was the first person to really work with me on my footwork and all of those types of things. I think player development is big in this league. And if coaches take the time to work with kids on that player development, they can succeed. It's about opportunity and player development. That's what I believe."

Carroll's belief in himself is what has always fueled his fire, particularly during his darkest times.

"My whole motto and my whole mindset in life is somebody can always have it worse than you," he said. "I've been through a whole lot in my life. I've been shot (in the ankle during an incident at Missouri, where he finished his college career), to my liver situation (he has a rare liver disease which may require a transplant in the future).

"I'm blessed to be standing right here in front of y'all and to be able to play the game of basketball. There's no hard feelings from me. And that's why every coach I've had in the past, you know I give them credit. Even George Karl, he was man enough to come up to me and say, 'I shouldn't have let you go.' I respect a guy like that and I respect every coach I've ever had. Each one of them taught me a little something along the way."

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He's shared that wisdom along the way, all while maintaining his unofficial title as Mr. Personality wherever he's been.

Carroll's confidence can be infectious. And on a team with some of the most reserved and unsuspecting stars in the league, Carroll's flamboyance and gift for providing his own punch lines sticks out. Yet he backs it all up with versatility, toughness, smarts and an ability to play above and beyond the 212 pounds he packs on his 6-foot-8 frame.

I think player development is big in this league. And if coaches take the time to work with kids on that player development, they can succeed. It's about opportunity and player development.

– Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll

"I think I've gotten a lot better," Carroll said. "I could see a lot of times in practice my game got a lot better. When coach brought me in he wanted to label me the Bruce Bowen guy. And now he's switched it and wants me to be more like Kawhi (Leonard). It's just the ... my biggest thing is defense. I'm going to stick with defense and hang my hat on defense. But at the same time, who's to say I can't get better at offense? So that's what I do. I try t come in and be the last person in the gym and don't let nobody outwork me."

It's paid off for the Hawks.

Carroll averaged a career-high 12.6 points this season, shooting career bests from the floor (.487) and from beyond the 3-point line (.395), while playing his role on this team to perfection.

His value was on full display in the Hawks' Game 1 win over the Nets Sunday. With Horford and Paul Millsap struggling to find their groove offensively, Carroll scored 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting, 2-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line, to go with his eight rebounds, three assists and tireless work on Johnson. He was one of five Hawks to score in double figures, led by Korver (21) and Teague (17) as the unit once again shined over the individual.

Even George Karl, he was man enough to come up to me and say, 'I shouldn't have let you go.' I respect a guy like that and I respect every coach I've ever had. Each one of them taught me a little something along the way.

– Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll

"That's the beauty of our team," Carroll said. "We don't have one guy we have to depend on every night. And when we're clicking on all cylinders, it's hard to beat us."

They might not have just one guy to depend on every night. But months ago, when this team carving out its identity as a selfless, defensive-minded, ball-sharing bunch, Budenholzer showered Carroll with the highest praise.

"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," Budenholzer said during the Hawks' perfect January. "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 didn't get enough Defensive Player of the Year mention as he deserved this season. You don't guard the best perimeter players in the league all season for a team that wins a franchise-record 60 games, and sports a top-seven defensive rating, and not possess the sort of chops that suggest you belong in that DPOY conversation.

"I feel like this is my second year all over again," Carroll said. "Last year I was a rookie and now in my second year, I just feel like a better player and a more mature player. And I'm just taking advantage of it, getting back to being the Junk Yard Dog and not straying away from it. I'm not trying to be the Kobes, the LeBrons or the KDs. I'm just being who I am, and that's the Junk Yard Dog and doing the nitty and gritty things."

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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