With a number of large developments surrounding the team over the summer thus far, there’s been a palpable sense of excitement among Jazz fans and media alike. A young, energetic coach has been hired in Quin Snyder, lottery pick Gordon Hayward has been retained in a move that will cement his status as a franchise cornerstone going forward, and Utah received an unexpected boon when Australian prodigy Dante Exum fell to fifth in the draft, giving the Jazz the opportunity to select the potential superstar they had so vocally coveted. The boat is rocking, to be sure, and a fan base mostly devoid of anticipation the last few seasons has every right to frolic in the water just a little, even if the true payouts for these moves may not be realized until a few years down the line.
Making some waves of his own after taking something of a backseat hype-wise during a whirlwind couple weeks surrounding the draft and early free agency is 23rd pick Rodney Hood. Regarded as a player who could offer certain contributions at an NBA level immediately, Hood nonetheless fell to the Jazz despite a late lottery projection from most experts, another steal in the minds of Utah’s front office given that other outlets have indicated they also had him far higher on their own draft boards.
And though summer league results are always to be taken with several large grains of salt[ref]Players present are typically rookies and some second-year guys along with journeymen attempting to raise their stock high enough to make an NBA roster, so be wary of drawing too many concrete conclusions from it.[/ref], Hood has done his best to justify Utah’s high opinion of him in his short time in a Jazz jersey so far. Given a mightily small sample size of just four games and the above caveats, though, let’s use his limited time in summer league in conjunction with his college performance to get a gauge on where Hood will fit with the Jazz, both this upcoming season and going forward.
His calling card coming out of Duke is shooting, and rightly so. Hood was a knockdown man for the Blue Devils as a secondary option behind the more heralded Jabari Parker, hoisting a healthy 169 attempts in 35 games (just under five a game) and converting at a strong 42.0 percent. Also important are some of the specifics here – unlike many sharpshooters, Hood isn’t confined to simply a spot-up game reliant on strong passing and systems. He’s capable in such situations, of course, but is similarly proficient off the dribble – per DraftExpress, he shot 43.5 percent (37-85) for the year on pull-up triples, ranking first among their top 100 prospects heading into draft night.
Another positive detail is a theme that’s starting to be given more weight in smart circles in recent years – his release point. Every inch truly does count in this league, and heady front offices are valuing guys who can not only shoot, but who can do so while maximizing the degree to which they stretch opposing defenses. This means quick releases and high release points, or in some truly rare cases (peak Ray Allen comes to mind) a combination of both. Oft-maligned Rashard Lewis fell into some major minutes in the last two rounds of the playoffs for the Heat last year after playing sporadically up to that point, almost entirely as a result of the way he can stretch defenses in this manner. He certainly doesn’t have a quick release – in fact likely the opposite – but look at how high above his head he holds the ball while shooting:
It may not seem like a huge deal at first glance, but Lewis’s long arms and unorthodox motion give him a real advantage on close-out defenders compared with guys who release the ball lower. With several of Miami’s offensive role-players effectively taking a nap on the court during the latter parts of the postseason, coach Erik Spoelstra went to Lewis in large part because of the extra little bit of stretch he provided against defenses that were keying in on LeBron James. Bearing in mind the obvious practical differences between the two, now check out Hood’s similarly high release:
This, coupled with nearly perfect shooting mechanics and the simple fact that he’s left-handed, will be a weapon for Hood his entire career. The above clip was from his masterpiece earlier in the week against the Bucks in Las Vegas, where he shot 7-10 from deep and finished with 29 points on 11-16 overall. The increased distance of the NBA line has been no issue whatsoever, and he’s showcasing the sort of confidence and willingness to bomb away one loves to see from a rookie, especially when they’ve got the sort of range Hood does.
His offensive repertoire is far from limited to just his shooting, though. Hood possesses an excellent basketball IQ and feel for the game and is a competent, if not particularly explosive, ball-handler capable of initiating an offense himself at times. His work in pick-and-roll sets might be the most underrated element of his game coming out of college – again per DX, he scored at a 1.26 point-per-possession rate on finished P&R sets, another high-water mark among the draft class. He doesn’t turn the ball over often and his height allows him to see the floor well; Duke’s system didn’t maximize him much here, but he shows potential as a distributor for this reason. He’s shown flashes here in summer league as well:
Hood’s biggest potential issues will be on the defensive end, with several elements of his game here that will need work. Some relate to effort and the mental side of the game; he needs more coaching for his stance and elements like screen navigation. Conversely, some are physical drawbacks that may limit his defensive ceiling somewhat, such as a fairly thin frame and, perhaps most damning, a very short wingspan – 6’8.5 at the combine, the exact same as his height[ref]This is quite rare for NBA players, with most guys boasting a wingspan at least a couple inches longer than their height.[/ref]. He’ll never fill passing lanes or accumulate many blocks given this and his lack of explosive leaping, and he’ll need to leverage his solid quickness and smooth stride as much as possible to become an average positional defender. His smarts do indicate he’ll be a fine help defender once he gets up to NBA speed, and he’ll likewise want to utilize this strength as often as possible to make up for his disadvantages.
Hood likely won’t have much shake against NBA-level wing defenders and won’t be bulky enough to overpower many of them either, but this hopefully won’t be a large issue given the motion system expected to be instituted by coach Quin Snyder. He should fit well with bench units that’ll need his and Steve Novak’s spacing while Rudy Gobert and Exum (neither a shooting threat) provide other sources of value, and Gobert’s presence behind him as a rim protector should partially soften the effect of his still-raw defensive game. His ability as a secondary handler should be invaluable both this year and going forward – you can never have too many solid ball-handlers in a motion system, and his combination of skills both here and as a shooter make him an excellent fit for Snyder’s projected system. He showed an ability and willingness to pump fake and penetrate after over-eager close-outs on the perimeter, one of the staples of such schemes, and he and Alec Burks will be a fun pair in the minutes they see together as a shooting and slashing combo.
Like nearly every member of the current Jazz roster, Rodney Hood has a number of developments to make before he can be considered a success. But he’s an excellent fit for the direction Snyder is taking this team over the next number of years, and he’ll bring some much-needed shooting to a Jazz rotation that was woefully devoid of it last year. His performance thus far at summer league has been encouraging, and Jazz fans will hope he can carry it over into training camp and meaningful games a few months down the line.