The mantra with first-round picks in summer league, particularly those playing following their rookie seasons, is fairly consistent: they should be among the best players on the floor, and dominate at times.
Mark Utah’s top prospects as two-for-two, then. A night after Dante Exum wowed the Energy Solutions Arena crowd, Rodney Hood overcame a sluggish start Tuesday night to carry the Jazz home in an enjoyable comeback win over the San Antonio Spurs1. It was his second consecutive dominant performance here at summer league, and even had many prognosticators (this one included) wondering whether the slight risk of injury outweighed any progress Hood was making by playing against guys so inferior to him talent-wise at this point. Don’t tell Rodney that, of course — he just wants to play.
“As much as I can play, I’m (going to) be playing,” he said following the win.
Utah Summer Leauge coach Alex Jensen conceded that Hood has a bit of a skill advantage over many of his opponents, but stopped well short of proclaiming Hood’s time here a futile exercise.
“He’s advanced for his age,” Jensen allowed when I asked about Rodney’s prognosis, but went on to discuss areas he can continue to improve in. “Just a little bit of everything. It’s rare that you can find a guy with his size and length, but also he can guard multiple positions … He has a little of everything, so the nice thing is you can just kind of develop all of that, get better in every area.”
Hood, for his part, has a longer and more specific list of improvements still to be made.
“I think finishing at the basket, finishing through contact, finishing with my right hand,” he said. “I’ve gotta continue to work on that, and continue to get stronger. Staying low at all times, not just playing straight up.”
Gradual development is the name of the game during summer play. The limited court time and level of competition makes it unlikely even the top prospects in the league will discover any true revelations about their game this time of year, but it’s the perfect exercise for more talented players to get repetitions — both with fundamentals and with an increased role they may see during an NBA regular season down the line.
“You forget how young they are, him and Dante, but they’re the leaders (at summer league),” Jensen said. “So they have to talk, and that’s one thing you try and encourage, and you hope that carries over.”
And if Hood’s performance does indeed transfer over to the 2015-16 season, the rest of the league better watch out. He’s already become the clear steal of the later first round in the 2014 draft, and his continued growth leaves room for much larger accolades. He’ll continue to hone his skills in the summer environment, and will be one of several exciting pieces for the Jazz as a highly anticipated season gets closer.
|San Antonio Spurs||70||Final | Box Score||72||Utah Jazz|
|Olivier Hanlan, SG 17 MIN | 0-5 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PT | -10 +/-Hanlan looked lost in his first start in a Jazz uniform. He was a non-factor offensively and couldn’t hit the shots he did manage to get, and lost Dairis Bertans on simple defensive plays for open 3s on more than one occasion.|
|Brock Motum, PF 23 MIN | 4-12 FG | 1-3 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -7 +/-I’m just not sure what the Jazz see in Motum at this point. He’s not accurate enough on his open looks, isn’t a fantastic athlete and is a sieve defensively. I’d be pretty surprised if he were on the Jazz’s NBA roster at any point.|
|Jack Cooley, C 21 MIN | 1-4 FG | 4-7 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +4 +/-He wasn’t as consistently active offensively as Monday night’s game, but Cooley was again a beast down low, including several big plays near the end of the game as the Jazz mounted their comeback. He’s quickly becoming a fan favorite.|
|Rodney Hood, SF 25 MIN | 8-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | -2 +/-Hood got off to a slow start by his own admission, but was there when the Jazz needed him most down the stretch. He continues to score nearly at will against this level of competition when he puts his mind to it.|
|Bryce Cotton, PG 29 MIN | 2-11 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -3 +/-Cotton couldn’t find his rhythm Tuesday night while starting in place of Dante Exum. Some of the floaters he usually cans weren’t going down, and his stroke was a bit off. He’ll look for a bounce-back game Thursday.|
|J.J O’Brien, SF 17 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +8 +/-O’Brien saw his first action of the tournament and didn’t do a whole lot — until the end of the game, where he hit a couple big shots and played some solid defense. He has the size to move between the 3 and the 4, and is a fun Jazz experiment.|
|Chris Johnson, SF 23 MIN | 4-11 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +13 +/-Taking his move to the second unit in stride, Johnson was Utah’s most energetic player. He stuffed the box score and played aggressive defense, and appears out to prove that he belongs on a full-time NBA roster this year.|
|Jared Cunningham, SG 16 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +4 +/-Cunningham was surprisingly less involved than Monday night despite Exum’s absence, but it’s unclear whether he deserves more opportunity at this point. He hasn’t really shown a whole lot so far.|
|JaJuan Johnson, PF 13 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +1 +/-He continues to play strong interior defense, and though he needs work on his offensive fundamentals, Johnson is surely making an impression here at summer league. He should see more time moving forward if possible.|
|Nick Wiggins, SF 8 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -1 +/-The younger brother of Andrew Wiggins, Nick didn’t get too much chance to prove himself in his first summer league action. He looked mostly comfortable in the system, though, should he get more opportunities.|
I, for one, really enjoyed how animated Jensen and his assistants became on the bench during several points of this game, particularly in the second half when the Spurs were killing the Jazz on the offensive glass. It’s only summer league, but continuing a professional and demanding culture is a great thing.