The difference between Atlanta and Brooklyn is night and day, but for DeMarre Carroll, it feels as though he’s in his comfort zone after a two-year detour to Toronto.
The common denominator is Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who was an assistant with the Hawks when Carroll blossomed there before leaving to sign with the Raptors as a free agent.
Carroll was bothered by knee problems and didn’t fit the Raptors system, but since the Nets traded for him last July, he has been healthy and has stepped right into a leadership role. “It’s crazy,” Carroll said following a workout on Friday. “It’s like I left for two years and I came back home.
“You know where everything is at. It’s kind of like you left this in this spot. That’s how it feels. I understand the offense. I understand what Kenny wants. I understand where I can get my shot, where I can’t do certain things. It’s great to come back to this type of offense.”
The Nets are 2-0 to start the preseason. They have held the Knicks and Heat below 40 percent shooting. Carroll has been efficient, averaging 9.5 points and 8.0 rebounds. Atkinson credits him for setting the tone on defense.
“We have to do a great job of managing him and keeping him healthy because he’s going to play hard,” Atkinson said. “He brings it. He knows exactly what we’re doing. Everything we do, he’s in step . . . To me, it’s the best type of leadership because it’s authentic leadership, leading by example.”
The Raptors paid dearly to have the Nets take the remaining two years of his contract worth $30 million. They gave the Nets first- and second-round picks and took back Justin Hamilton. Now that he’s past his knee problems, Carroll can make a huge difference for a developing team such as the Nets.
“I think this can reestablish my career and help start going back towards the way I was going when I was in Atlanta,” Carroll said. “I understand the system and I feel like I can really help these guys and help this team the way I know I can when I’m healthy.”
Carroll describes himself as a three-and-D guy, meaning a three-point shooter who can defend some of the league’s best small forwards, and he said he hopes to be a “captain on defense.” Through two games, the Nets have shown their depth, fast pace and aggressive defense can wear down opponents.
“We really focused a lot this summer on getting in condition, being the most in-shape team, fast-paced up and down, shooting with 15 seconds left on the shot clock,” Carroll said. “So, if we’re the team in better shape and we’re playing the hardest, who says we can’t win those big games that people count us out?”