The Utah Jazz’s risk could be Rodney Hood’s reward

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 04: Andre Iguodala
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 04: Andre Iguodala /

As the Utah Jazz move forward into next season, a lot of pressure will be on Rodney Hood. If he can succeed, he could reap a big reward.

The Utah Jazz had an encouraging year last season on the back of marked improvements from many players, including Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles, as well as solid acquisitions like Joe Johnson.

Perhaps more impressively, they accomplished this while dealing with many setbacks, including injuries and some disappointing play from a couple players. Rodney Hood was one of these disappointments, going from a 2015-16 season in which he looked like a future go-to scorer to a third year where he saw a decline in production.

Some of this was due to injury, as Hood missed 27 games last year — the most of any season in his short career. Although he started the year out well, averaging 16.1 points over the team’s first 19 games, setback after setback kept him from returning to form the rest of the way.

The Jazz were able to absorb this absence in production mostly by plugging in Joe Ingles in Hood’s spot, making him a backup for the first time since his rookie season. Ingles found success (and a $50 million deal) in spacing the floor and playing versatile defense, more or less the role Hood fills when effective.

All together, the Jazz starters with Hood put up a -3.4 net rating in the 152 minutes they played together. Swap Ingles in at shooting guard, and that number skyrocketed to a +22.7 rating, a preposterous jump for the 149 minutes that configuration saw the floor.

Ingles worked so well for the Jazz last season because he excelled in a complementary role, never handling the ball or attempting to make a play unless he had a great opportunity. In fact, his usage rate of 13.9 percent ranked dead last on the roster and places around the 20th percentile among small forwards overall.

Of course, this luxury of depth and compartmentalization will not be there next year for Utah, what with Gordon Hayward leaving the team. Ingles will likely be starting at the 3, with Hood first in line to start at shooting guard.

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The Jazz will be losing more than just a roster spot and a warm body, as Hayward led the team in field goal attempts and usage rate, as well as placing second in assists per game. Some of this slack will be picked up by Ricky Rubio, whose play style will be much more ball-dominant than the outgoing George Hill, but there’s still clearly a need for more hands on deck.

With the offense running through other players, particularly the addition of Hill at point, Hood was often thrown by the wayside last season in terms of offensive structure, which looks to have contributed to his streakiness.

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Jordan Cummings of SLC Dunk chronicled this effect, noting that Hood averaged over 16 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent shooting from three-point range when he made his first shot of the night.

However, when he missed his first attempt, Hood put up just 10.6 points per game, shooting 35 and 31 percent respectively. It does seem that Hood is better in a more focused role, as he was noticeably worse with Hayward on the court with him, his true shooting percentage rising nearly seven points in those instances.

Working him into the offense on more than just residual touches should help to absolve some inconsistency. Perhaps Hood could be a target for the same pin-down and flare screens Hayward received on the perimeter last season, or maybe he could run some pick-and-rolls as well.

There’s certainly opportunity for Hood next year, but the Jazz will be stretched very thin across his position, with Alec Burks unable to be counted on and Donovan Mitchell entering his rookie season. Contractually, this makes things start to get interesting. Hood will be entering restricted free agency next summer, provided the Jazz extend a qualifying offer.

His play next season will be incredibly huge for what his market turns out to be. There’s a huge difference between a trusted contributor with a modern skill-set and an inconsistent role player who can’t be given a larger responsibility.

The good news is Utah has ample room to retain Hood. With the contracts they signed this year in free agency, they could create enough cap space to give Hood a hearty extension and still have room for reinforcements.

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A couple years down the road, a lineup of Dante Exum or Rubio, Mitchell, Hood, Ingles and Gobert would be extremely versatile and modern, not to mention a defensive menace. It would also, projecting the development of the backcourt, have three capable scorers to take on the offensive burden.

The Jazz will be starved for decent scoring next year, and Hood could step into that void in a big way if all goes well. At 24, there’s no reason why Utah couldn’t have a potential 20 points-per-game scorer in waiting.

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Watching Hood transition back into a main option will be one of the biggest storylines to watch for the Jazz in 2017-18. His success, or possible lack thereof, will be the one unplanned-for variable in what could be an encouraging year despite the circumstances.