An early-February trade last season sent Rodney Hood from the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoff-contending Portland Trail Blazers. Hood’s half-season with Portland was up-and-down as he had to figure out how to fit in with the team’s established pecking order. Not only were there defined leading scorers in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, but Hood also faced competition on the wing with Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Jake Layman and Evan Turner.
Fast-forward a couple of months and things are radically different. Nurkic is out with an undefined timetable, and the incumbent forward corps are all on their own adventures outside of Portland. Hood went from newcomer to “elder-statesman” on the wing in a hurry; once a role player on a playoff team, he’s now a starter on a team with championship aspirations.
We’ve already seen Hood’s ability to impact the game offensively in Portland’s win against Dallas. It was Hood who put the Blazers on his back with the team struggling to score early on. The 6-foot-8 forward finished the first quarter with 14 points as his teammates set him up and he took advantage of scoring chances.
As Hood was heating up in the first quarter, he found himself in isolation with Kristaps Porzingis, a player called The Unicorn because of his combination of height and mobility. Hood could have passed the ball off, but instead he took Porzingis head-on, using an in-and-out dribble to catch the big man off guard, creating space for an easy pull-up shot:
Later in the game, Hood was given the keys to the offense in the half court. He kept the ball to himself and then attacked on a pick-and-roll with Hassan Whiteside. As Hood attracted the defending big man off the pick, he used his ball-handling to get open for a shot:
Notice in that clip that both Lillard and McCollum have relatively stress-free possessions. McCollum retreats to the corner after Hood takes control, and Lillard chills in the opposite corner as a decoy. This speaks to the scoring element that Hood brings. The backcourt both did their share of heavy lifting in Portland’s win, whether it was McCollum in the first half or Lillard in the second half, and the Blazers needed every point. Having a three-level scorer like Hood to defer to for spot possessions like this will add up over the season.
And it wasn’t just the Lillard-McCollum show against Dallas: Hood finished with 20 points on 8-12 shooting from the field (including 3-3 from deep). That trio combined for about 69% of Portland’s total points.
It’s encouraging to see Hood embrace his opportunities as a scorer. Hood admitted last playoffs that being aggressive on the floor has plagued him, but it was something he was growing into with Portland, as he told Jason Quick of The Athletic:
“I realize I might have to be the bad guy (and take shots), and that’s hard for me,” Hood said. “But that’s something I’m getting past, somewhere I’m evolving. I realize it’s not a bad thing to be myself and flourish. And this is a good environment for me to do that.”
Hood is now in a position to get a healthy dose of shots each nights. He’s gotten the starting nod over newcomer wings Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja, and his ability to shoot provides a dependable outlet for the star backcourt to kick out to. Furthermore, his ability to handle the ball allows Lillard and McCollum to work off ball, or take a much-deserved play off, as Hood runs the offense and creates his own shot.
Terry Stotts and co. will certainly put Hood in a position to flourish. The forward’s scorching 51% shooting from the floor and 50% shooting from deep might not last over an 82-game season, but it’s clear he’s already cashing in on early opportunities presented to him. Hood’s performance against the Mavs showcased how he can help the team through his scoring and his ability to take the scoring load off Portland’s stars.