OFFICIAL GAME PROGRAM OF THE BROOKLYN NETS
After surgery and a slow start, DeMarre Carroll found his form to help the Nets become one of the NBA's hottest teams
DeMarre Carroll was back, but he wasn't really back, and it was driving him crazy.
"At the beginning," said Carroll, "I was about to jump off a cliff."
For Carroll, the 2018-19 season began on Nov. 9 in Denver, later than he expected. Coming off career highs in points and rebounds during his first season in Brooklyn, the 32-year-old forward spent the summer grinding away in workouts with his -- as he likes to note -- younger teammates.
He was looking forward to picking up where he left off, and everything was fine until he started to feel some pain in his ankle during the preseason. He missed the last two preseason games and then, the day before the Nets tipped off the season in Detroit on Oct. 17, he had ankle surgery.
It was a short surgery, a minor issue, and Carroll pushed an aggressive timetable to come back, missing just 11 games and returning three-and-a-half weeks after the surgery. He expected a smooth return, and discovered the opposite.
"When I first came back, I was like, 'what in the world is going on?' There's no turning back once you're in," said Carroll. "Once you're in the water, you've got to stay in the water. I feel like that's what I did."
The 10th-year NBA veteran has described that period as his body having not caught up with his game. His instincts were there, his mechanics were honed, but he just couldn't put it all together.
"I think it helped that DeMarre knows the model."
"Mentally, I can stand still and practice shooting 100 threes and make most of them, but when you get in the game and you get to running up and down, you're not hitting that same shot because your body isn't caught up with your game," said Carroll. "So I felt like I just had to wait until my body caught up with my game."
In fighting through that period, Carroll had the encouragement of assistant coach Jordan Ott, whom he considers, "family, like one of my brothers." Before Brooklyn, Carroll, Ott and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson were all together in Atlanta. Ott was getting started in his coaching career working on Atlanta's video team. Carroll was coming into his own after bouncing around the league a little bit, and Atkinson was the assistant coach who helped Carroll unlock his potential with individual workouts.
Even when he was in Toronto for two seasons, Carroll and Ott kept in touch, and Carroll likens the work he and Ott do on a daily basis to what he and Atkinson did in Atlanta.
"Jordan just kept saying, 'let's get to it. let's keep working. let's keep going and let's keep working,' and finally I kept working and we pushed through, and that's what we kept saying. 'Let's push through.' He sent me film and text messages every day," said Carroll. "He was a big help to me. He gets that from Kenny. He and Kenny, got the same kind of relationship and I feel like he piggybacks off Kenny the way Kenny did and he helped me get through this thing."
"At the end of the day, I feel like I'm one of the guys that do the dirty work."
"That type of individual attention is what we’re about," said Atkinson. "I think it helped that DeMarre knows the model. When DeMarre got to Atlanta, he didn’t have that before. And then, when he saw that it helped his game, that was the buy-in. Now, he’s bought in. All our guys are bought into it. I think they enjoy the individual attention and everything is in a team setting."
There were some promising games early on, like the 21 points against Philadelphia on Nov. 25. But Carroll searched for consistency. Over his first 24 games back, he averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 35.2 percent overall and 30.7 from 3-point range. On Dec. 23, he went scoreless in 29 minutes against Phoenix.
It all started to turn around with the next game on Dec. 26. Carroll had seven straight double-figure scoring games, including back-to-back 20-point games in Memphis and Chicago. Over the next 20 games he was Brooklyn's third-leading scorer with 14.0 points per game on 41.8 percent overall shooting and 37.4 percent from 3-point range, plus 5. rebounds.
He had a season-high 22 points against Houston, and in a win against Denver had 18 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and a career-high-tying six assists.
Along the way, he adjusted to a new role. A full-time starter for the previous five seasons -- including all 73 games he played for the Nets last year -- Carroll has stuck with a reserve role and been a key to the Nets having one of the highest scoring benches in the NBA. He figures it's a natural and timely transition for the next phase of his career.
Carroll's resurgence has coincided with the Nets putting together one of the NBA's best records from early December through the All-Star break.
"It was good. It just made you feel even more special," said Carroll. "You get into your groove, the team's winning, you feel like a bigger factor. At the end of the day, I feel like I'm one of the guys that do the dirty work, the undercover work, the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet, I feel like that's the things I do, and I feel like it paid off at the right time for me and the team."