1. Rodney Hood is the real deal.
Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward have gotten the most publicity and credit for the Utah Jazz’s post-All-Star game surge, and rightfully so. Not to be overlooked, though, is rookie sharpshooter Rodney Hood, who simply has been terrific since returning from some mid-season injuries. His game was on full display versus the Sacramento Kings.
With head coach Quin Snyder opting to rest Favors and Hayward, Hood played the role of the go-to guy and not only did he fill it, but he excelled in it. He showed a full repertoire of offensive moves in the paint, as well as a silky smooth jumper. When the Kings mounted a nice run in the fourth quarter, Hood put the team on his back. When the dust settled, he finished with a career-high 25 points, with 13 coming in the fourth1. Add in four steals, three rebounds, a pair of assists and not a single turnover in 34 minutes. Not too shabby, right?
But Sunday’s performance fits right in line with how well he has played since the extended break. Here is just a sampling:
His shooting seems to really complement the others starters. Then when he is in with the reserves, Hood has been the offensive focal point. After a slow start to his NBA career, he has battled plantar fasciitis, stomach issues and a recent concussion. But he is starting to really put things together, adding yet another young stud oozing with potential to the Jazz’s mix.
2. The Jazz end-of-the-bench-guys played with moxie.
First, moxie is a great word. And it simply is not used enough.
Dennis Lindsey came from the San Antonio Spurs system, one that had a knack for discovering diamonds in the rough. Given his track record over the few seasons where he has been at the helm, Lindsey is constantly on the look for some hidden talent. Thus, the game of musical chairs that has been played with the 13th, 14th and 15th roster spots. More on this in a bit.
As mentioned, with some of the front liners resting — not to mention an injured Trey Burke — several of the Jazz’s deep reserves got some extended play time. They naturally made some mistakes, but their effort and hustle was undeniable. When Utah finally created some distance in the fourth quarter, it was largely behind the play of some lineups comprised of players the common NBA fan would not know.
First, Bryce Cotton showed why Utah seems to really like him and why the Spurs were so high on him earlier this season4. He played with pace, pushing the ball after misses and makes. His buzzer-beating trey to end the first quarter was a big shot. Cotton was the play-maker in the fourth quarter and his energy was contagious. The diminutive guard finished with seven points, two assists and surprisingly enough, four rebounds in 13 minutes.
Second, Jeremy Evans is the epitome of the consummate professional. He seems to always be ready whenever he is called on. Sunday was not an exception. Evans brought his trademark enthusiasm and athleticism, tallying 10 points in a mere eight minutes. He also seemed to help get under the Sacramento front court’s skin.
Lastly, Jack Cooley, Elijah Millsap and Chris Johnson all had their moments. Cooley was physical and snatched five rebounds in just six minutes. Millsap and Johnson had some nice defensive plays. The former has gotten extended burn, showing the potential to be a top-notch defensive stopper.
Giving these players more time on the court could be the pattern these last five games. While they do bring some flexibility for potential trades this summer, should they continue to impress, Lindsey and friends might be able to find a keeper or two. Moreover, they could be retained for minimal amounts. Something to watch this off-season.
3. Will the Sacramento Kings ever turn things around?
This is an honest and sincere question. The Kings started out the season well before the ownership decided to bizarrely sever ties with head coach Mike Malone. It has been downhill ever since, with a bevy of injuries and two coaching changes, including former Jazz skipper Tyrone Corbin. This drama has undoubtedly contributed to Sacramento’s on-court product.
Sunday was very representative. The Kings have talent, but also lack discipline. They kept things close for much of the game, thanks All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and solid youngster Ben McLemore. They also let their tempers get the best of them, resulting in constant harping to the referees and a few ill-time technical fouls. Utah mounted a run and the Kings folded.
Volumes have been written about Cousins, who is supremely skilled. He clearly is one of the most capable big men and is truly capable of stuffing the stat sheet. He also sports a constant scowl, complains frequently and has some of the worst body language ever known in the history of bodies and languages. Is he a player around which the Kings can build a successful team that contends for the playoffs?
Perhaps George Karl can work some magic; it is impossible to gauge what he can do until he has a full season with which to work. Sacramento certainly needs an infusion of more talent, along with a more balanced roster. Perhaps they make some inroads on these fronts this summer, but every time they seem to take strides, they fall back to square one. Right now, it has to be frustrating for most involved.