Since moving from the Utah Jazz in 2018, Rodney Hood had become a forgotten player with the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers. While his trade to the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t make national headlines, his first game with the team left a sense of promise of what he can provide going forward.
Against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, Hood scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting and two three-pointers along with three rebounds and one steal.
Instead of oohing and aahing too much at his debut, let’s breakdown how he contributed on both sides of the ball, what layers he adds to the offense, and where he needs to improve.
In last year’s playoffs, the New Orleans Pelicans exposed the inconsistent perimeter shooting of everyone not named Lillard and McCollum. Hood, a career 36.8% three-point shooter, signals an improvement on Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless, the players normally receiving the backcourt’s kickout passes.
As Thursday’s game progressed, San Antonio’s wings started sticking to Hood instead of helping on the penetration, something rarely done for Aminu or Harkless. When they did collapse, Hood capitalized. Late in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan helped on a Lillard-Nurkic pick and roll, freeing the new signing to hit a dagger triple.
Terry Stotts didn’t let sagging defenders be the only way Hood got open looks. In his first two offensive possessions, the guard bent around off-ball screens from Nurkic. He missed a three-pointer on his first possession, marking his only miss on the game. The second possession resulted in Hood giving the ball back to his center, making sure not to force a bad shot.
The threat of his outside shooting opened other aspects of the Blazers’ offense as well. In the second quarter, Meyers Leonard set a screen for Hood. Patty Mills tried to predict Hood’s movement and stepped out beyond the arc to prevent the catch-and-shoot three; Hood reacted to the shade and dove toward the basket. Jakob Poeltl and Mills went to block a potential pass to the cutting guard, leaving Leonard wide open on the perimeter for his favorite shot.
Hood, measured at 6 feet 8 inches tall, took some plays out of Evan Turner’s playbook as well by punishing smaller guards in the post. On back-to-back possessions, he got position in the block with Bryn Forbes on his back. Both possessions ended in smooth turnaround jumpers as Forbes stumbled back in preparation for another bump.
As they do with Turner, opponents will throw a double team at Hood after a few successful post-ups. Instead of throwing up a bad shot, he passed out of the Spurs’ lone double team in Thursday’s game, a positive sign for those worried about his shot selection.
As expected, Hood looked lost on several offensive possessions. He’s been on the roster for fewer than five days, so we’ll cut him some slack. He frequently found himself standing in the same corner as Layman, who promptly motioned for Hood to rotate toward the top of the arc.
Turner, a textbook floor general who knows where he wants his teammates positioned, waved at Hood to relocate a few times too. The new signing followed his teammate’s orders without hesitation, showing that his assimilation with Portland’s offense will encounter minimal roadblocks.
The Blazers play conservative defense, ranking 25th in steals per game this year. Since Stotts became head coach, the team hasn’t finished higher than 25th.
Unless Stotts imparted his defensive philosophy on Hood in less than a week, the guard individually plays conservative defense. He spent much of Thursday night covering DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, two crafty shot creators who frequently utilize pump fakes. Unlike Layman, who jumps at every flinch, Hood stayed grounded and focused on contesting the shot rather than blocking it.
He forced both opponents to pass out of the midrange and reinitiate the offense on several occasions, troubling San Antonio’s old school offense.
On the perimeter, Hood didn’t stray from his man. His refusal to help defend a slasher made it seem like Klay Thompson or Steph Curry stood behind him on the arc.
For smaller guards like Lillard and McCollum, rotating onto the cutter isn’t always beneficial as the opponent can occasionally finish over them. Hood, a sizable and athletic wing, should slide over to prevent the easy bucket and trust his teammates to rotate and stop a subsequent three-point shot.
When Hood found himself defending in the block, his conservative mentality went out the window. LaMarcus Aldridge posted up the new Blazer twice - both times Hood squirmed around Aldridge to get the front position. When DeRozan tried an entry pass, Hood got a finger on it and Layman gathered the loose ball.
On the second post-up attempt not long later, he stood his ground until help defense arrived, forcing Aldridge to pass the ball out from a favorable position.
Hood’s frame and length provides him with valuable defensive versatility, as seen from his coverage of Aldridge. He and Turner therefore have the ability to switch whenever necessary without sacrificing any size, a handy tool on Thursday night as DeRozan and Rudy Gay blitzed the midrange.
Besides an awkward closeout on Davis Bertans which led to an uncontested dunk, Hood’s defense was consistent and without risk. His potential addition to the starting lineup for Harkless won’t plunge the team into defensive chaos, plus it will open up the offense for Lillard and McCollum to operate.