PHOENIX – Coming off his first Nets season, in which he averaged 13.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists, all career highs, DeMarre Carroll was primed for a repeat performance until his right ankle began bothering him in training camp. Mindful of his experience in two injury-plagued seasons with the Raptors, Carroll underwent arthroscopic surgery. He appears set to return when the Nets meet the Nuggets Friday night at Pepsi Center.
Carroll said he might have been able to deal with what he described as “nagging soreness,” but he recognized how much good health contributed to his first Nets season.
“From having those two years in Toronto when I wasn’t healthy, that definitely was a factor,” Carroll said. “I told myself I would never go through what I went through in Toronto, not being healthy and trying to fight through it. It hurt me to just sit on the bench for those 11 games, but it’s well worth the wait.”
Although Carroll sat out the Nets’ victory Tuesday in Phoenix, coach Kenny Atkinson said he was “hopeful” he would play against the Nuggets after practicing one more time Thursday in Phoenix. Atkinson welcomes the return of a player who started 73 games at small forward last season.
“Defense has kind of been his forte and then, obviously, his shooting,” Atkinson said. “At the end of games, he makes big plays, makes big shots. I’d really like to see him give us a boost defensively, and he gives us versatility. He can play two, three and four.”
The Nets (5-6) are coming off two straight wins highlighted by strong defensive performances, including holding the Suns to 82 points, second-lowest figure in the NBA this season. But they are facing a tough test against the 9-2 Nuggets, led by Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, and the addition of Carroll, even in a limited role, should help.
“I feel like me being a veteran leader, I have to bring it and do it every night and not just when I’m playing,” Carroll said. “When I get back on the court, I can bring another element to this team, and we can make that next big step.”
The Nets’ offense has changed since last season, and Atkinson has gone with a smaller lineup, starting Jared Dudley at power forward with three-point ace Joe Harris at small forward. Atkinson called the power forward situation “fluid,” but Carroll expects to resume a prominent role.
“I think it’s me going out there and stretching the floor, playing defense and being that smart veteran,” Carroll said. “Jared has done a great job while I’ve been out. When they would get rattled, he was that guy to calm them down. Hopefully, I can bring some three-point shooting, help spread the floor a little more and, defensively, I can help the guys.”