A year ago, the dialogue around the Utah Jazz centered around questions of player growth, such as whether Gordon Hayward could take a step to become a team’s lead dog and whether Rudy Gobert would develop offensively. The conversation this year has shifted from development to off-season acquisitions. The additions of George Hill and others have understandably drawn the focus away from the incremental improvement of the players on the roster.
But player development will still be a hugely important factor to how good the 2016-17 Jazz can be, and it’s worth figuring out what the Jazz can reasonably expect players they’re counting on for big progression — players like Rodney Hood.
In response to a Twitter poll I fielded about expectations around Hood’s development, 84% of the 185 respondents said they expected Hood to improve next year. The heavy majority startled me somewhat, and begs the question: do players really make a leap in their third year?
This coming year Rodney Hood will…
— Spencer Wixom (@JazzJargon) August 31, 2016
I decided to look at the statistics of players in similar situation as Hood by finding the stats from Basketball Reference of all second-year guards that started ≥60 games1 at Hood’s age during the three-point era. There are 53 players that fit those qualifications. I then found 60 players under the same qualifications who were 24-years old entering their third year. Comparing the stats of the players who appeared on both lists gives a reasonable lens for what Jazz fans can expect from Hood’s third NBA season.
There were 34 players who appeared on both lists, allowing us to analyze the rise or fall in their game. Below is the average increase to the per game stats of players going into their third year. In general, most basic stats go up very minimally.
The problem with looking at these basic per game stats is that you are only getting part of the story. For example, assists per game on average went up by 0.16 per game. Is that because the player is smart and now in his third year in the league or is it just because he is getting more minutes?
Looking at the difference in the advanced stats helps weed out some of those questions2. Looking at AST%, an estimated percent of teammates field goals a specific player assisted while playing, gives you a better idea of how a players passing improves from year two to three than just raw APG might. As evidenced, the player does begin to get assists more effectively as they are presumably more comfortable in the offensive system. The TOV% also goes down, for what one can assume is the same reason.
A player’s eFG% and TS% do not increase drastically, but seeing them increase at all while the player’s usage rate goes up 0.71% is and encouraging sign for Hood’s upcoming season. Most of the player value stats (WS, VORP, BPM) all went up as well, though it was not a major increase. These players get better in their third year, but the jump is minor and almost statistically insignificant in most aspects. It’s likely that because they are 24 years old entering into their third year they are more physically mature than others in their same draft class and already had what we might expect in terms of a third-year leap, except that they had it a season or two earlier.
Those numbers are based on the average of all 34 applicable guards. Seventeen of these players did increase their box plus minus and VORP, and 13 of those players went on to be an All-star at one point in their career. It appears that if a player of Hood’s caliber can increase his Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) by about 1.0 and Box Score Plus Minus (BPM) by about 1.4 in their third year, it is highly likely that player will play at least one all-star game in their career, so this is something to monitor this year.
Reggie Miller is a good example of one of these players that took a big leap in his third year and illuminates the path for how Hood could take that leap next year. Going into his second season, the 23-year old had only started one game. He started 70 games in his sophomore season and he was made great strides averaging 16.0 points per game, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, comparable to Hood’s sophomore production of 14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.
In Miller’s next season he averaged 24.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists and was selected as an All-star. The key to this jump for Miller was that his USG% went up 5.7% to 24.2%. For Hood to have this sort of role on offense he would have to increase his usage by 2.7% and take 3.4 more shots a game. That may be a tough order for Hood on a suddenly much deeper roster, but that would be the path for Hood to take that type of leap.
On the aggregate, these players only improved to a small extent, a sign that we shouldn’t expect Hood to take a huge leap. Minor improvement is the most likely scenario. The off-season additions will help him, as so far he hasn’t really had a starting-caliber point guard creating looks for him, but they could also diminish Hood’s role in the offense and decrease his USG%.
Hood has the potential, drive, smarts and skill set to be one of these third year players that improves. Nonetheless, let’s use history as a guide to temper expectations. In all likelihood, the guard we saw last year is more or less the guard we will see this year and that is okay. Hood was really good last year and fans should be excited to watch what he can do in this coming season.