DeMarre Carroll doesn’t even have to speak to answer the question.
As the former Missouri Tiger talked about his first season with the Brooklyn Nets at the team’s practice facility in Bay Ridge, his eyes flickered to his right at the windows that look into the Manhattan skyline, and he smiled.
“It’s been great,” he said before the team’s game against Minnesota on Jan. 3. “I love the city, I love the team. The organization has welcomed me with open arms. I feel like I’m playing some of the best basketball of my career.”
Carroll’s numbers back up his talk.
He’s averaging 12.7 points and a career-high 6.7 rebounds per game. Carroll’s career-best in points per game is 12.6, so he’s on pace for a career year. Other teams have taken notice of Carroll’s strong season, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently reporting that he’s on the radar of NBA teams as a potential trade target to help for a postseason run.
Carroll, a 6-foot-8 forward, said there’s no secret to his success this year other than that he’s healthy, which wasn’t the case when he was in Toronto the last two seasons. Carroll only played 26 games during 2015-16 after being hampered by a recurring right knee injury that eventually led to surgery.
Now that he’s healthy he’s been able to play in 39 of the Nets’ 44 games.
“When I’m healthy I can play the type of basketball I want to play,” he said. “When I’m not, I can’t.”
Carroll has benefited from having a familiar face in his first season with the Nets in head coach Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson was an assistant coach when Carroll was a starter for the Atlanta Hawks, on a team that was one of the best in the Eastern Conference when he was there during 2013-15.
The Nets are Carroll’s seventh NBA team in nine seasons, and he said having a coach who knows his style of play and what he brings to the court and locker room makes the adjustment to a new team go quicker.
“It very easy to have some familiar faces that you know,” Carroll said. “I’ve been traveling and adjusting to different cities since I’ve been in college. Having a familiar face makes it even better.”
He remains Missouri’s last first-round pick. Carroll was selected 27th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, a streak that will likely be broken in June should Tigers freshman Michael Porter Jr. declare for the draft. Porter is currently sidelined after undergoing back surgery.
Carroll led Missouri to the Elite Eight as a senior and has returned to Columbia every summer to run youth camps that benefit his charity, The Carroll Family Foundation.
This past summer, Carroll teamed up with former Missouri teammate Laurence Bowers to put on a all-star game of Tigers football and basketball alumni. Carroll said the two have talked, and the expectation is that the game will continue, but not this summer.
“We don’t want to do it every year,” he said. “We want to build up some excitement and talk to some of the older alumni to kind of get them to come back and give them more time to be able to come back. We’re trying to plan it every other year or every three years, but we’re still going back and forth. But we’re not going to do it every year — to build up excitement.”
Compared to his recent stops, Brooklyn has been a different animal for Carroll.
While Toronto and Atlanta were both Eastern Conference title contenders, the Nets are in the middle of a massive rebuild, led by recent high draft picks in D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor.
Despite being only 31 years old, Carroll is looked at as the veteran presence in the locker room in a league that continues to get younger.
“I’m the big brother,” he said. “I don’t mind. You’re trying to teach these guys good habits and build a culture. I think that’s my role here and to perform on the court. If I do those two things I can be a Brooklyn Net for a long time.”
Younger players already look up to Carroll because of his work ethic and his gritty defense, but the role he played on those Toronto and Atlanta teams has carried over as well.
“Having that pedigree and having been on a winning team and kind of bringing that knowledge and experience onto us is huge,” Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said.
Against Minnesota on Jan. 3, Carroll finished with nine points and four rebounds in what was considered a upset 98-97 win over the revamped Timberwolves.
Carroll guarded Minnesota guard Jimmy Butler as he attempted the game-winning shot, which clanked out to give the Nets the win.
He said playing on a team of players such as Okafor and Dinwiddie, who are in Brooklyn after being overlooked elsewhere, has brought out the best of his “big brother role,” since he’s been in the same spot before.
“You can come to me,” he said. “My locker is full. I’ve been doubted since I was 3 or 4 years old. You have to play like you have a chip on your shoulder. Better yet, play like you got a log on your shoulder.”