The Unlikely Transformation of Rodney Hood

September 28th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

Can Rodney Hood serve as Utah’s primary scorer with Gordon Hayward out of the picture? (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Following Gordon Hayward’s departure for Boston, this statement by Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey put Rodney Hood on a high-stakes path of transformation. Utah’s competitive prospects will largely match Hood’s ability–or inability–to live up to this statement.

The 23rd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Hood quickly established himself as a steal by contributing significantly as a rookie, tallying 8.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 21 minutes per game. He significantly improved these numbers (14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists) his second season. In the process, some observers within and without Jazzland started to wonder if Hood rather than Hayward offered the most upside of Utah’s wing players.

Now that G-Time has taken his talents and GQ coif to the land of leprechauns, some cling to that hypothesis. Yet it’s a dimming hope. Not only because Hood’s 2016-17 season, his third in the league, showed notable regression amidst recurring health problems1. But also because as Hood now stands in a Hayward-sized gap in the roster, it’s easier to see just how large the void is.

Put bluntly, Hood has yet to prove himself the equal of Hayward in nearly any way when considering the two players at the same age. By 24, Hayward had proven himself capable of producing over the course of an NBA season more points (+3.4 per game), rebounds (+0.5), assists (+2.2),  steals (+0.4), blocks (+0.2), and three throws made (+2.5) than Hood has yet managed in any season of his career. The only category in Hood’s favor is three point shots made (+1 per game over Hayward’s best pre-24 season).

Advanced metrics tell the same story. Hood has not yet matched the 24-year-old Hayward’s achievements as measured by personal efficiency rating (+6.1 advantage to young Hayward), true shooting percentage (+0.036 percent), win shares (+2.7), or value over replacement player (+1.9), and has never hefted the same burden in terms of usage (+3.3 percent).

Lindsey, regularly calculating and conservative when establishing public expectations for his players, abandoned his typical modus operandi when anointing Hood an NBA-caliber primary scorer2. That statement shows either profound belief in the maturing Duke product or a touch of desperation.

Because so far, Hood hasn’t come close to the threshold.

The question isn’t merely one of point production, though that too is valid. A quality (not elite) primary scorer in the modern NBA not only puts points on the board, efficiently and frequently, but also contributes in other areas of the game. For perimeter players, this typically comes in the form of offensive orchestration and assists. A one dimensional scorer would require Stephen Curry-esque scoring punch to counterbalance dead weight in other aspects of the game3.

Hood is a quality three point shooter, but nothing near Curry’s caliber. His career true shooting percentage of .533 percent is solidly in Rudy Gay territory (career .532). Gay has long been the NBA poster boy for the worst imitation of a primary NBA scorer: the high volume, middling efficiency guy who gets some buckets but does little else. In large measure, this is attributed to Hood’s minimal three throw rate, which has never topped .22 in a season.

At the same time, Hood has never managed an NBA assist rate of 15 percent or greater.

Unless at least one of the above metrics–free throw rate and associated true shooting percentage or assist rate–substantially increases this season, the nearest Hood will get to “primary scorer” will be floundering in shoes obviously too large for him to fill.

How likely is Hood to transform his game in any of the aforementioned ways?

While Hood’s passing ability has yet to be fully utilized by the Jazz, don’t expect this season to be a significant shift. At the same time he evoked Hood as a primary scorer, Lindsey predicted newly acquired point guard Ricky Rubio would approximate Jason Kidd in a Jazz uniform and possibly lead the league in assists. Rubio will have the ball in his hands A LOT and drive much of the offense. Don’t expect Hood to fill that role often.

The efficiency metrics offer better prospects, particularly free throw rate. But only mildly.

Thus far in his Jazz career, Hood has filled the traditional Utah shooting guard role: stretch the floor and can threes. The past two seasons he has made 2 and 1.9 threes per contest, good for the second4 and third5 highest marks in franchise history6. While this marksmanship has created gravity and spread the floor, helping Utah’s offense function, it has also kept Hood out of attack mode toward the rim.

But there is reason to believe that getting to the line more frequently is in his game, at least to a greater degree than he’s yet shown. In Hood’s lone season at Duke, he posted a .328 free throw rate, substantially greater than any season yet with the Jazz. Yet even that rate fails to match the frequency with which Hayward went to the line in any of his NBA seasons, including his rookie campaign.

In a primary scoring role, Hood will certainly get more attempts at the free throw line. This mandate has been explicit in the coaching given Hood as well as Utah’s other capable penetrators, Dante Exum and Donovan Mitchell7.

But unless Hood’s ability to earn trips to the stripe far exceeds anything he has before displayed at any level of play, that alone is unlikely to increase his offensive efficiency enough to functionally replace Hayward’s scoring.

The other realistic recourse Hood has for upping his efficiency is to trade in a substantial portion of his long two and mid-range shots for three point attempts. But this would almost certainly have to come from pull up threes, some on the break but particularly coming off screens8. Hood shot just under 30 percent on those pull up threes last season, a massive drop from his near 42 percent accuracy on catch and shoot triples.

To increase his scoring efficiency enough to really fill the Hayward gap would require Hood to both take more pull up threes (only 1.8 per game last season) and make them at a higher rate. That’s a tall order.

Where does that leave Hood’s prospects of fulfilling Lindsey’s prediction of primary scorer status?

Players who fit the profile of Hood’s current game9 aren’t respectable primary scorers. It’s that simple. The best10 are the Jason Richardsons and J.J. Redicks of the NBA, the Ryan Andersons, Dennis Scotts, and Eric Gordons. Good players, all, but not the caliber of scorer to lead a highly competitive playoff team.

The peak of the type is on display right now in Golden State, Klay Thompson, the only player of this type who realistically might hold up to the burdens of a primary scorer role in the modern NBA. But he’s also a far superior defender to Hood and a better, more consistent shooter as well. Which leads back to the original premise: Hood is neither a potent enough scorer or possessed of a diverse enough game to fill the role he inherits.

The realistic hope is that a combined increase in attempted pull up threes, accuracy on those shots, and trips to the free throw line11 will in combination result in Hood becoming something akin to the scorer Gordon Hayward was two seasons previous: not a clear-cut primary scorer but a fair approximation.

If any of those improvements don’t materialize, Hood will almost certainly fall short of the expectations the franchise has placed upon him this season.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

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7 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Great post/article! Puts Hoods uphill battle in perspective. I was always skeptical about his ability to be number 1, but my main argument would’ve just pointed directly at his free throw rate (which you did). Always thought he’d have to make a Herculean jump in that area to become a legit primary option.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Hayward essentially doubled his free throw rate from his rookie season to where he now stands. Hood may eventually do the same, but asking for anything approaching that within a single season is probably more than is realistic. Plus, he hasn’t shown the physical resilience of Hayward, whose body changed substantially to allow him to take more hits near the basket.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        I don’t expect Hood to transform into a star scorer in one season, but he was a very good scorer in college. His last season in college, I often thought he looked like a better player than Jabari Parker.

        Also, Hayward’s progress was very slow and steady, and he entered the league as a younger player than Hood. A better comparison might be Hood’s third season as a player compared to Hayward’s third season as a player–rather than a comparison of their pro seasons at the same age. I’m not convinced that a player who attends more years of college develops at the same rate in college as a player who comes into the NBA at an earlier age and is tutored as a professional player. Also, in Hood’s third season as a Jazz man, he was injured and at less than full strength a good portion of the season. On the other hand, you could argue that one of Hayward’s greatest strengths has been his ability to avoid injuries.

        Finally, the first year that Hayward was handed the reigns of the team as its primary scorer, it appeared that he might not be able to grow into that role, and that the Jazz may have overpaid him on his second contract. Hood may very well have the same type of growing pains, and we may not know whether he can successfully grow into the primary scorer role for the Jazz until he has had a couple of years of development in that role.

        • Paul Johnson says:

          I would also observe that it seemed like Hayward’s development as a primary scoring option for the Jazz really took off when he got much bigger and stronger for his position, by engaging in accelerated weight training during the off-season. It has been suggested that NBA players often do not reach their full potential until they transform their bodies into mature, strong, elite bodies, which then allows them to better showcase their full set of skills. Hayward developed his bigger, stronger body so quickly that I privately wondered whether he had used steroids to aid him in his development. I’m not sure that Rodney Hood can develop a bigger, stronger body as quickly as Hayward was able to do, but I think that clearly has to be part of the equation–especially in order to reduce his propensity for injuries.

          • Paul Johnson says:

            I have also often thought that Joe Ingles could significantly improve his effectiveness as an NBA player by increasing the strength and girth of his body, as well. Ingles seems like almost a mirror image of Hayward skill-set-wise, but with less strength, size and athleticism, and without an “alpha player” mentality.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          Nice take, Paul! I think much of what you say is plausible. One other factor to consider, however, is that Hayward’s prolonged maturation was allowed by the trajectory of the team. It’s slow and steady rebuild was intended to parallel Hayward’s own maturation. Hood doesn’t really have that option. Gobert may well be a top 10 player right now. Assuming the team stays healthy, they have maybe three other top 50 players in Rubio, Hood, and Favors, two of whom will enter free agency next season. There is strong incentive to have an impressive season again so as to make a strong case that player should want to go to SLC to play with Gobert. I don’t see Hood getting the time Hayward had.

          • Paul Johnson says:

            Another factor to consider is that Hood seems to be best suited as a very tall shooting guard, rather than as a small forward with somewhat limited size and athleticism. If Hood doesn’t perform well this season, he could be pushed out of a starting role for the Jazz at shooting guard by either a rejuvenated Alec Burks or an up-and-coming Donovan Mitchell. On the other hand, with few teams having very much money in free agency this upcoming off season, in light of what happened with many lesser restricted free agents this past off season, Hood’s best option may be to re-sign with the Jazz, which may give both him and the Jazz a longer time to allow him to grow into the primary scorer role.

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