The NBA off-season, especially the months of August and September, are always interesting. With little news out there — especially after the joy that is June and July — it can sometimes be a struggle for basketball fans. Thus, the proliferation of lists. The top players at each position, the league’s best defenders, each conference’s predicted rankings and so forth. Regardless of one’s feelings toward such lists, they do help pass the time before media day arrives in four short, but long weeks.
Sports Illustrated came out with their annual top 100 players list, and three Utah Jazz players made the cut: Gordon Hayward at #31, Derrick Favors at #37 and Rudy Gobert at #39. Understandably, much of the media’s focus is directed toward this trio, and most likely, they will continue to receive the bulk of the attention. After all, the Jazz’s success will largely fall on this threesome’s shoulders. But there is another player who looms large for the 2015-16 season.
If this writer was to make a list of players who could be integral to Utah’s fortunes, Rodney Hood would be right near the top. The same player who somehow slid to 23rd in the 2014 Draft is perhaps being a bit overlooked this offseason. In reality, he could be the proverbial X-factor for a young Jazz squad which clearly has the NBA’s postseason as a goal.
Like a majority of rookies, Hood’s initial campaign was full of ups and downs. Fortunately in his case, most of the downs occurred early on. His start to his NBA career was rife with injuries, subsequent setbacks and errant shooting. Hood struggled on the offensive end and while the effort was solid, his defense was of the typical rookie ilk. It seemed that each time he had a nice streak of outings, an injury would rear its ugly head.
What was particularly encouraging early on was Hood’s hustle. Even when his shot was not falling, he was working hard and contributing in other ways. Whether it was rebounding or dishing hockey assists, Hood was doing what he could to add to the team. As he did playing at Duke, he showed he was a team player first.
His selflessness, combined with his inconsistent shooting, let to a bit of reticence offensively the first half of the season. Hood would occasionally pass up an open look, much to the chagrin of head coach Quin Snyder. From his in-game admonishments to statements in the press, Snyder openly encouraged Hood to be more aggressive with the ball. He wanted his rookie to not be tentative, particularly when good opportunities presented themselves.
And Hood came through. He shot when he should shoot. He created when he needed to create. The left-hander simply started to assume more of a role on offense. As he did so, he started to display his true offensive versatility. While he could connect from the perimeter, Hood demonstrated a craftiness to his game. He could beat his man off the dribble, either getting to the basket or creating enough space for a nice midrange jumper. All he needed was an injection of confidence, something his skipper provided.
As was the case with most of his Jazz teammates, Hood finished the season strongly. After the All-Star break, the silky smooth shooter was consistently good. Of his 16 double-digit scoring games, 14 came after the break. Hood tallied 11.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG and 2.1 APG1, while shooting 42 percent from downtown. His confidence seemed to wax stronger each passing game. Hood became an offensive weapon, a player who could create a shot when needed. His emergence helped alleviate the scoring pressure from Hayward and Favors.
In April, Hood was even better. With Snyder doing some experimenting with line-ups and players, he took a more prominent role as the season waned. He became Utah’s go-to scoring threat. The final results2? 16.7 PPG with 45 FG% and 91 FT%. Hood showed his all-around potential, chipping in 3.4 APG, 3.4 RPG and 1.14 SPG. He only committed eight turnovers in 214 minutes, while sporting a very impressive 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Few Jazzmen finished on a sweeter note.
Moreover, as he took on more of a mantle for the team, he started to show more on-court emotion. Hood’s play became more spirited, which was a welcomed side development.
By many accounts, Hood has had a tremendous summer. The coaches have been effusive in their praise, lauding his hard work and dedication to getting better as a player. Hood has clearly spent time in the gym and the weight room. This is clearly a guy who wants to hone his game and show what he is capable of accomplishing. While his summer league appearance was abbreviated, he showed enough to further tantalize the Jazz faithful. He did enough to warrant the front office largely avoiding the wing free agent market, as GM Dennis Lindsey publicly has stated.
Hood could become the long-term scorer and shooter the team definitely needs. While he initially could do so in a secondary, complementary role, the potential is there to be primary scorer. There were many times last season where Utah had troubles putting points on the boards, with inconsistent 3-point shooting being a major factor. Hood showed the ability to be a difference maker on this front. He possesses an repertoire of moves that could jump start the Jazz’s offense at times when things stagnant. Hood can get to the free throw line, too.
While he has a lot of room for growth, Hood also showed that he can be another ball-handler and facilitator3, while also being willing to crash the boards. His defensive positioning is solid. He is not afraid to body up his opponent. Hood’s foot speed may never be great, but he has the chops to perhaps be an above average defender. Snyder’s schemes definitely help. Overall, Hood does not seem to have any extremely glaring weaknesses. His game is fundamentally sound.
With Alec Burks also returning, the wing positions figure to be one of Utah’s strengths. Between Burks and Hood, it will be interesting to see who starts and who becomes the second unit’s focal point. It will the biggest position battle in training camp, though battle does not seem like the best word for it. Both will be major players for Snyder. Whatever transpires, Hood will be ready to play.
The Jazz’s off-season approach was obviously centered around internal growth. Utah expects to see Hayward, Favors and Gobert continue to take big strides. Likewise, the expectation is for Hood to step up.
Rodney Hood is clearly a player to watch, and one whose game will be a major component of the Utah Jazz’s season.