Opportunity Knocks: DeMarre Carroll's Long and Winding Road to Stardom

Opportunity Knocks: DeMarre Carroll's Long and Winding Road to Stardom
May 26, 2015, 11:06 pm
By Eric Weiss & Kevin O'Connor

DeMarre Carroll earned the nickname “Junkyard Dog” in college for his gritty style of play, but in the 2015 Playoffs, he's showing the NBA that he can be much more than a scrappy role player. Now 28-years-old, the unrestricted-free agent-to-be is due to cash in this summer, and it's all thanks to hard work, maturity, and of course: the opportunity to showcase his evolving talents.

"The first thing about DeMarre that we all see, before he was here and now that he's here, is just that he's a great competitor,” said coach Mike Budenholzer. “He's one of the ultimate competitors in our league. He plays so hard on every possession. That's probably more important than anything, as basic and fundamental as it may seem."

Carroll's on-court demeanor is clear to anyone that has watched him play; he dives for loose balls, crashes the offensive glass, and is one of Atlanta's most vocal team leaders.

However, energy alone is no guarantee for success, and it would take Carroll three years and four teams before he was able to secure the opportunity necessary to harness his potential.


Sports Aptitude's behavior balance personality classifications rates Carroll in the 90th percentile within the “Energetic/Uninhibited” Personality Group, which is defined as “players who are generally more creative, impulsive, independent-minded, experimental, and emotionally driven” than the average player. This group accounts for 22% of draft eligible players, but only 15% of actual NBA rosters – which is the largest differential among the five Personality Groups.

"He was an energy guy, flying all over the court," said then-Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, who in an interesting twist now leads the Nets. "But he was young and immature. A lot of guys come into the league with a higher opinion of themselves and expecting a bigger role. It takes time."

This is not particularly surprising considering the characteristics of the most successful players, historically, are classified as “Free Spirit: Warm, Impulsive, Nonconforming, Self-Assured, and Sentimental” by nature. While the least successful players, historically, are classified as “Wild Child: Detached, Self-Reliant, Nonconforming, Undisciplined, and Analytical” by nature.

On either end of this spectrum, you have a player who is led by emotion and whose actions are dictated more by their own free will than an overriding sense of obligation to conform. Many of the most successful players in the Personality Group have had bumpy roads to success, many changing addresses multiple times before finding the ideal fit.

Carroll's Balance is tilted much further toward “Free Spirit” (90th percentile) than it is toward “Wild Child” (12th percentile). But he was also a late first round pick after spending five years in college (he transferred from Vanderbilt to Missouri after his sophomore season), with questions regarding his true position and overall upside, due to physical limitations.

These classic scouting question marks can be a curse for the type of player whose big personality typically requires more time to acclimate to league demands. These players are “on the job trainees” who benefit by building strong relationships with players who set strong examples to follow.

Unfortunately for Carroll, he found himself on a series of teams in transition, with unstable rosters and uncertain direction. This led to a two year period where Carroll played a combined 42 games for five different teams, at a stage where continuity would have paid dividends for his development.

As such, Carroll failed to fully capitalize on a solid opportunity with the Jazz during the 2012/13 season, shooting only 29% from three, which ranked only 32nd among the 53 Small Forwards who played between 10 and 19 minutes per game that season. Carroll also ranked 7th in Defensive Win Shares among this group.

However, in a “3 and D” league, playing only 16 minutes per game and having only half the skills on his resume, surely didn't do Carroll any favors. Perhaps if he had been plugged into one system with a specific focus for his effort and energy, he would have mastered those skills sooner.

Fortunately, the Atlanta Hawks saw enough to give him that chance.


Atlanta was light on experience at the wing when they brought Carroll on board for the 2013/14 season. For the first time in his career, in his fourth season, Carroll was in possession of a starting job and a clearly defined role. Each of the other players in the starting lineup were established, and it was up to Carroll to solidify his position with them by performing up to expectation.

The level of clarity this situation provided, surely helped to trigger Carroll's best measurable Personality Factors. His combination of “Warmth” and “Group-Oriented” traits are only shared by 21% of all players in the Sports Aptitude database. Carroll is also 27% less “Restrained” and 20% less “Self-Assured” than this successful group of players.

Collectively, these traits paint a picture of someone defined as being, “outgoing, attentive to others, enthusiastic, and apprehensive” when it comes to building and maintaining relationships.

For Carroll, it's easy to see how the Hawks belief and eventual reliance on him to fulfill the role of a starter on a cohesive five-man unit would play off of these traits. This situation created a level of accountability that might otherwise not exist in another context, where opportunity was less defined.

“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 Quin Snyder, he was the first person to really work with me on my footwork and all of those types of things,” Carroll told earlier this season. “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."

This statement is especially telling for Carroll, whose “Internal Motivation” classification is “Undisciplined/Impulsive”, which is shared by only 5% of players in the Sports Aptitude database. This is a category that is defined by “a lack of attention to detail and motivation for tasks that don't hold personal interest.”

As an “energy guy” Carroll was lauded for his “work ethic” in high school and college, two places where he was featured as a prominent part of the team. But, “working hard” and “working smart” are not always the synonymous. High “Internal Motivation” players tend to obsess over every little detail, regardless of situation, while player's lower on this scale tend to let situation dictate their focus.

Carroll may have been a willing worker, but he needed that engagement to create purpose for embracing new tasks such as “footwork” and other tricks of the trade that go beyond just getting shots up and being a “gym rat”.

However, Carroll had some other advantages as well. Most players in the “Undisciplined/Impulsive” group are much less competitive and lack the ability to effectively analyze situations in order to adapt the way Carroll can. Carroll never really got a chance to show what he was capable of until Utah gave him a clearly defined role and the coaching staff engaged his intellectual curiosity and desire to compete.

Once that happened, Carroll was able to harness his relentless motor and apply it to the right tasks. He played almost as many minutes in that quarter season with Utah than he did in the prior three years of his career, and that caught the attention of the Hawks, who signed him to a two-year deal in 2013.

Since joining the Hawks, The Junkyard Dog, who once relied on slashing and picking up scraps, has quickly advanced into one of the best shooters in the league. Carroll was a 29.8 three-point shooter prior to joining Atlanta, but hit at 36.2 percent last year, and shot up to 40 percent in 2014-15.

After the 2013-14 season, Carroll even joked that he wanted to become “the African American Kyle Korver,” a sound-bite that, when put into context, exemplifies how much Carroll benefits from being an integral part of a cohesive team with strong examples to follow. He absolutely scorched the playoffs, at 41.8 percent from behind the arc.

It took four years of wandering the earth for DeMarre Carroll to make his mark in the league. He wandered without the pride and accountability that comes with having a sense of purpose and direction as a part of a true “team” until the fates aligned.

That winding road eventually led to the right situation for him to become his best, which makes one wonder about how many other players with the right Personality Factors, but the wrong pedigree are waiting for the right situation to be born again.

"I feel like this is my second year all over again. 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."

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