What’s Happening with DeMarre Carroll and the Spurs?

After finishing 20th in defensive rating last season, the San Antonio Spurs looked to improve on that end during the summer. As a result, DeMarre Carroll was San Antonio’s first move during an eventful offseason. A 33-year-old, 6-foot-6, 3-and-D forward seemed like a perfect fit. However, through seven games, Carroll has only played 21 minutes while totaling five DNP-CDs.

It’s a surprising development for a player who could conceivably be a rotation player on virtually every other team in the NBA due to his versatility. Plus, due to the fact that Carroll had other suitors — most notably the Milwaukee Bucks — the Spurs guaranteed the non-trivial amount of $15 million over the next three seasons to acquire his services.

Why DeMarre Carroll Isn’t Playing

Previously a small forward, Carroll changed positions in his two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, playing roughly 75% of his minutes at the four. In doing so, he revived his career after a disappointing stint with the Toronto Raptors.

As a stretch power forward with the Nets, he aggressively spaced the floor and defended multiple positions, reinventing his game for the modern NBA. Once Marcus Morris spurned the Spurs, Carroll seemed to be in line for minutes at power forward — but head coach Gregg Popovich had other plans. Trey Lyles became the starter at that position with Rudy Gay as the backup, leaving Carroll to watch from the bench.

Lyles and Gay have played almost all of the PF minutes this season, leaving the backup small forward position behind DeMar DeRozan as the other way for Carroll to earn minutes. However, Marco Belinelli is currently the backup SF, while Lonnie Walker IV has been given the first crack at challenging Belinelli for that spot.

How DeMarre Carroll Can Help the Spurs Going Forward

Carroll still appears capable of playing on the wing, though at 33 he isn’t as mobile as he once was. That said, he still possesses good size and length to go along with his toughness and hustle, earning him a reputation as a quality defender.

In his first four years in the NBA, Carroll took only 95 three-point attempts and he hit only 28.4% of those shots. Beginning in his Atlanta Hawks days under head coach Mike Budenholzer, he has transformed his game by becoming a self-made, high-volume shooter, hitting 36.4% of his threes over those six-plus seasons.

Carroll provides a useful alternative to Belinelli. At Belinelli’s best, he’s an unabashed three-point shooter and an effective off-ball cutter. However, he has a tendency to take unnecessarily difficult shots — to say the least — and doesn’t bring anything of note to the defensive end. As it stands, San Antonio’s lack of shooters is why Belinelli holds value, but if he can’t hit shots (he is shooting 18.2% on threes this season) then his value dwindles and his defensive issues can’t be offset.

While Carroll has barely played this season, there is a decent chance that he’ll be a key rotation player or even a starter by season’s end. Lyles has done fairly well but has yet to find his touch from outside — an obvious issue for a stretch four.

If Lyles shooting doesn’t improve then Pop will likely give Carroll a chance, either as a starter in place of Lyles or off the bench when Gay is elevated to the starting lineup. Considering Pop tends to prefer to keep his bench intact, which would keep Gay in his sixth man role, it’s very possible that Carroll could join DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes in the starting unit.

Alternatively, if Belinelli’s erratic shooting and poor play continues, then Carroll could stand to inherit his minutes at the backup three. That would form an intriguing bench unit with Gay, Patty Mills, Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl. Either way it shakes out, it’ll require a wait and see approach for both Carroll and Spurs fans.