“Underrated” and “overrated” are terms that seem to be constantly thrown around by many sports writers and analysts when dissecting a certain team or player.
Ironically, it is more or less a slant against the media themselves for either covering an athlete too much, or not focusing on them enough.
In terms of the season they have had, I would put the entire Atlanta Hawks team in the “underrated” category.
Despite all of their injuries, they have remained in the playoff picture out East.
With the amount of coverage the New York Knicks get on a consistent basis due to the big market they are located in, you would think they are at least in the top eight out East. Right now, they are one game back of the Hawks for that coveted eighth and final playoff slot.
I can understand why Paul Millsap would be in discussion for being the most underrated player on this team. However, given his first All-Star nod for his great work this year, I would argue that he is being properly rated this season (finally).
Instead, I am going with a “glue” guy that has fit into this squad perfectly.
A huge reason for the Atlanta Hawks’ success this year has been the strong, largely unnoticed play of small forward DeMarre Carroll.
For his career, Carroll holds averages of 6.0 points per game and 3.2 rebounds per contest.
This year, with a starting role and the trust of his coach and teammates, he is putting up 11.1 points per game and 5.5 boards per match on 47 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from three.
Now it appears he has finally found a home in Atlanta.
To go along with his high offensive averages, he is also posting a career high in minutes per game (31.9) and has been a defensive menace at both forward positions thanks to his lengthy 6’8”, 212-pound frame.
Clearly, based on the two-year, $5 million deal he signed with the team, this was a “moneyball” move for the franchise. A low-risk, high-reward signing. So far, Carroll has obliterated any expectations put on him to begin the year.
This is not to make him sound like he has morphed into a LeBron James-type star figure, but given how efficient he has been on every area of the court, especially offensively, the Hawks have to be absolutely thrilled with what they pilfered from the free-agency market.
His marks of true efficiency have also been stellar. He currently holds a 55 percent “true shooting” percentage to go along with a 1.278 overall scoring efficiency rating.
It is pretty evident that coach Mike Budenholzer envisioned molding Carroll into a slightly better version of Bruce Bowen when the Hawks nabbed him. After all, Coach Bud was a longtime assistant down in San Antonio and witnessed firsthand the transformation of Bowen from little-used journeyman to exceptional defensive specialist and longtime starter for the club.
While Carroll is perhaps not the best perimeter defender in the league like Bowen was for some time, he is certainly up there already at the young age of 27.
On offense, he remains mostly a corner three-ball marksman. However, he also is learning how and when to slash hard to the lane in hopes of getting the ball delivered to him at the right angle for an easy look inside.
Carroll is still learning the game and how to adjust to starting minutes, as this is the first time in his career that he has been given such a crucial role.
He will undoubtedly be a deciding X-factor as to if the Hawks will be able to hold on to a playoff spot. He may have to up his scoring a bit more, which does not seem to be a problem recently, as proven by him scoring in double digits in nine out of the 14 games he has played in for the month of March.
His defense has been a staple to the Hawks’ dirty, gritty game plan all season, and Carroll’s versatility and ability to play with a small-ball lineup is huge for Coach Bud, since his team currently lacks size in the post.
While the Hawks may not be getting much recognition this year, Carroll has been a bright spot in an otherwise injury-marred year that has forced him to really explore different aspects of his game, notably his perimeter shooting.
Lance Stephenson will probably still take home the trophy for Most Improved Player, but do not be surprised to hear DeMarre Carroll’s name in that discussion as well.
He has more than earned that level of respect by now and will continue to be an intriguing player to watch for going forward once the Hawks get everybody back in the fold.