The Atlanta Hawks have been defined by collective success all season long, but one individual is starting to stand out and bask in the postseason spotlight with unrestricted free agency on the horizon.
Even as Atlanta struggles to unearth the offensive consistency that previously propelled it into the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed, swingman DeMarre Carroll has lit up the opposition with more than the three-and-D tools that brought him to the Hawks at $5 million over two seasons in the summer of 2013.
Brooklyn Nets head coach Lionel Hollins—who's on vacation after his club was bounced by the Hawks in six games—can attest to that.
"I thought the MVP of the series was DeMarre Carroll," Hollins said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore. "If I was picking the second MVP it would have been Paul Millsap. Those two guys burned us every way you could think of – scoring, driving, passing, rebounding."
Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick concurred:
A year ago, such emphatic endorsements would have been unfathomable. As the Hawks battled injuries and got bounced in the first round by the Indiana Pacers, it appeared as though Carroll was sliding into the archetypal role that's been bestowed upon wings of his ilk. He was a solid supplementary scorer who did plenty of dirty work and parlayed that approach into then-career highs of 11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals.
|Carroll's Production With the Hawks|
Those numbers were more than enough to justify Carroll's measly $2.5 million base salary, but his role looked crystal clear: step up and play stingy perimeter defense while providing reinforcements from beyond the arc.
At last check, Carroll's play this postseason has crushed the confines of that gig, one that would have capped his earning potential this summer.
After scoring a team-high 24 points (8-of-13 shooting, 5-of-9 from three) in Atlanta's 104-98 Game 1 loss to the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Carroll cemented himself as the team's most reliable scorer during postseason play, as Vivlamore explained:
Outside of topping the Hawks in three-point shooting at 48.7 percent through seven playoff games, Carroll has attacked the basket and the ball in other phases as a sign of his developmental progress.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer explained how following Atlanta's 111-87 Game 6 win over Brooklyn, per Vivlamore:
His defense on the ball, on Joe Johnson, on different players as they subbed and changed things was great. His commitment to the boards was great. He’s really found a way to score whether it’s making open shots or getting to the basket. He is sneaking into the offensive boards, which we ask him not to do but he ignores us. He is just growing. He’s had a heck of a series and now he’s got to get ready for more.
With Atlanta in need of a lift, the soon-to-be 29-year-old has experienced that growth spurt in a hurry. And late bloomer or not, his uptick in production has provided some very necessary stability.
As Jeff Teague (37.8 percent shooting) and Kyle Korver (37.7 percent shooting from three) have sputtered, Carroll's picked up the pieces. He leads all Hawks regulars in postseason scoring (18.4 points per game) and shooting (55.6 percent) while ranking third in rebounding (6.6 per game).
|DeMarre's Post-All-Star Prosperity|
Atlanta has also outscored playoff opponents by a team-best 64 points with Carroll on the floor, which is eight points better than Paul Millsap and 17 points superior to Teague.
Not bad for a bargain-bin, free-agent signing.
What's become abundantly clear throughout Carroll's brief emergence is that he can no longer be pigeonholed. This season, threes accounted for a career-high 46.6 percent of his shots in Atlanta's quick-strike offense, but the confidence he's displayed off the dribble and off the ball has stretched his ceiling to an all-time high.
A majority of Carroll's postseason buckets have come around the rim, as he's mastered the art of cutting behind defenses that so often game-plan to avoid getting burned by Korver, Teague, Millsap and Al Horford.
But another wrinkle that's come into focus lately has been Carroll's ability to create for himself. After 27.3 percent of his two-point shots were unassisted during the regular season, 37 percent have been scored that way in the playoffs.
Now, Carroll's not going to regularly size up defenders and blow by them. But his ability to utilize a quick first step and straight line-drive dribbles helps boost his stock.
However, back-cuts along the baseline and quick dips to the basket from the wing will always be his bread and butter. In an August 2014 interview with Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, Carroll acknowledged how Budenholzer has helped hone his go-to skills.
"He showed me a lot—that spacing is very big in the NBA, that cutting and slashing at the right time is very big, footwork is very big," he said. "He has kind of re-invented my career."
|Carroll's Postseason By Game|
Not only has Carroll's arsenal expanded under Budenholzer's guidance, but he's been molded into a consummate team player that wing-needy teams should be prepping significant offers for.
And why wouldn't they? Carroll's not going to muck up possessions with the ball in his hands, and he's disciplined enough to lock down opponents' most daunting perimeter threats night after night.
As squads scan the free-agent market for selfless options who can supplement stars and provide a solid foundation in the years ahead, there may be no better option than Carroll—whose stock is soaring in the age of pace and space.
All statistics are current as of May 4 and courtesy of NBA.com unless noted otherwise.
Alec Nathan covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlecBNathan.