Brooklyn Nets' DeMarre Carroll Adapts and Elevates Bench Unit

The routine is a little different for DeMarre Carroll on a game day.

The 32-year-old forward is more likely to spend his time before the game working in the weight room rather than putting up jumpers on the court, and when the game starts, he'll be back in the tunnel staying loose rather than snagging a seat on the bench ... or taking the court for tip-off.

Carroll was a full-time starter in the NBA for the previous five seasons, including all 73 games he played for the Nets last season, during which he set career highs for points and rebounds. This year, all 54 of his appearances have come off the bench.

"I changed my pregame a little bit," said Carroll. "I'm more on that bike, you'll see me on that bike, I'm trying and keep my legs going and my body moving. But other than that, man, I just do the same thing. I'm a basketball player, so you can start me, you can bring me off the bench, it doesn't matter. As long as I'm impacting the game and helping the team, that's all that matters."

It wasn't part of the plan. Carroll was slated to retain a starting role until he missed the final two preseason games and had ankle surgery on the eve of the season opener. He returned less than three weeks later and began to work his way back coming off the bench. It took a while for Carroll to return to form, and along the way he and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson agreed it was best all-around to keep him in a reserve role.

That included earlier this week, when the Nets needed to fill in for the injured Treveon Graham at forward and went with Rodions Kurucs.

"We considered that," said Atkinson. "Do we put DeMarre in the starting lineup instead of Rodi? Rodi's a rookie. I feel like DeMarre's playing really well and wanted to keep him in his comfort zone. He's comfortable in that role. We could have gone the other way. I like where DeMarre is."

Carroll ended up leading the Nets with 22 points as a bench mob performance sparked the 39-point blitz over the Mavericks. The 122-87 win was Brooklyn's biggest margin of the season. The Nets got 68 points off the bench, including 18 from Caris LeVert and 16 from Spencer Dinwiddie.

Through Wednesday night's win against Cleveland, the Brooklyn bench has outscored opponents' benches a league-leading 56 times in 67 games. The Nets are second in the NBA in bench scoring with 47.8 points per game. Three of Brooklyn's top five scorers this season —Dinwiddie, LeVert and Carroll — came off the bench on Wednesday night against Cleveland.

Dinwiddie and LeVert are both recently returned from injuries. Carroll has been the mainstay, a stabilizing linchpin to the second unit with his ability to play both forward spots, even with his own late start to the season due to injury.

He had a slow start, averaging 8.8 points over 24 games through Christmas. But with 12 points in a win over Charlotte on Dec. 26, Carroll began a string of seven straight double-figure scoring games that included back-to-back 20-point games. In 30 games since, he's Brooklyn's No. 4 scorer, with 13.0 points per game on 42.0 percent shooting, including 38.0 percent from 3-point range.

His last six games have included a 12-rebound game against San Antonio and 20 points against Charlotte, in addition to the 22-point outing against Dallas.

Carroll embraced the bench role and stuck with it, seeing an entry point for the next phase of his career.

"I knew it was an opportunity, it was something I've never done the last five years of my career," said Carroll. "So it was an opportunity for me to see how I can impact the game, watching it from the side first. I think that was the biggest thing, to get used to it, to get comfortable to it and embrace it. That's what I tried to do."

As productive as it's been all season, the Brooklyn bench may still be growing as a force. In Wednesday's win against Cleveland, Dinwiddie had 28 points and he and LeVert combined for 21 of Brooklyn's 33 fourth-quarter points as the Nets erased a five-point deficit and ran away from the Cavs.

"I think that's been our competitive advantage," said Atkinson. "Our starters kind of hold the fort and then we kind of get our separation from the bench. Speaking of lineups, we kind of move it around during the game. We start the second quarter with D'Angelo (Russell), so now you've got him against maybe the other team's second unit. We really look at it, not saying we're perfect, but it's something we study. We understand how important it is."