The Portland Trail Blazers were pretty clear on what they were getting when they brought in Rodney Hood before last month’s trade deadline. Hood is a relatively known quantity at this point – he’s a tried-and-true scorer who can get buckets for a team when they need them. For the Trail Blazers, that was a big part of what was missing on their bench unit, which had struggled mightily to put points up in the absence of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Hood helps that situation, to some degree, though the numbers have perhaps outstripped even what Portland could have possibly expected from him in that role.
The minutes without their two stars have been more frequent this season, as head coach Terry Stotts has gone away from a staggered rotation that saw at least one of those two on the floor throughout much of the competitive portion of games. This year, Portland is more feast-or-famine: they outscore opponents by nearly seven points per 100 possessions when Lillard and McCollum share the floor and get the brains bashed in when those two sit, to the tune of a -10.55 net rating in 580 minutes. For comparison’s sake, Lillard and McCollum have sat at the same time for just a total of 809 minutes in the three preceding seasons to this one, so it’s clear that there has been a shift in strategy with regards to the Trail Blazers rotation this season.
Hood has helped to buoy those minutes by giving the team a go-to scorer on the perimeter. It’s only been 52 minutes, so every caveat regarding small sample sizes applies, but the Trail Blazers have been lights out in that time, led by Hood’s 78.1 effective field goal percentage. He brings the sort of three-level scoring that a bench unit needs, while still not being anywhere near good enough to siphon touches away from Lillard and McCollum when those guys are on the floor. In that way, he’s a perfect fit with the Trail Blazers, who can use him as an off-ball threat when they have their stars in the game and a No. 1 or 2 option when they sit.
Hood’s game is about as straightforward as they come; he’s a bucket-getter. He’s not a guy who plays in the flow of an offense and rarely passes the ball. If he has the ball and thinks he has any semblance of an advantage over his defender, that bad boy’s going up at the rim. And for the most part, he’s been pretty efficient in this role, which makes his ball-stopping ways a lot easier to stomach. In a Portland jersey, 65 percent of his baskets have been unassisted, the highest proportion of his career to this point. That self-creation extends to all three levels and the idea that he’d a key part of the Trail Blazers off-ball screening offense hasn’t quite come to pass as was expected when the deal was made to bring him into the team. Instead, he’s settled nicely into that scoring role, using his physical and technical gifts to boost the Trail Blazers offensively.
He’s a patient operator in pick-and-roll, working toward his spots and taking what the defense gives him in these situations.
Very little of what Hood does is rushed or on the defense’s terms. If he has to take an extra dribble or two to set up his defender, so be it. He reads what’s in front of him well; in the above clip, he turns the corner in pick-and-roll, Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo is waiting in the paint for him. Rather than pull up immediately for a jumper or try to attack through Biyombo’s body, Hood pauses and waits for Biyombo to commit before rising up for the jumper over his outstretched hand. Biyombo stunts at him in an attempt to throw him off, but Hood is unperturbed, taking the extra bounce to allow Biyombo to back off before hitting the shot. It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of the entire game, but his patience with the ball in his hands opens up a lot of these opportunities for him.
With Biyombo again defending, Hood winds back toward the baseline to take advantage of Enes Kanter’s flipped screen. Biyombo is too close to the basket, so Hood sizes him up and hits the three-pointer as his opponent continues to retreat toward the rim. The above clip is a common action the Trail Blazers run for Hood – the Iverson cut. Popularized by Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the early 2000s, the eponymous movement is used to open up an entire side of the court in which a scorer can work. These days, it’s often combined with a ball screen, which can be flipped, as Kanter does in the clip, to create an advantage for the offense against “ice” coverage, which forces the ball handler toward the baseline. In Iverson actions, that sort of defense plays right into the offense’s hands, as the baseline is often where the ball handler wants to attack anyway.
One area in which the Trail Blazers haven’t used Hood very much is in the dribble handoff (DHO) game. Teams with left-handed wings often like to bring those guys out of the right corner in “Chicago” action, where a player will come off a down screen immediately into a handoff. Getting Hood the ball on the move, toward his stronger left hand and toward the middle of the floor, might be a good avenue for the Trail Blazers to break down some of the league’s tougher no-middle defenses. Asking Hood to make a read and find the right pass in that situation might be too much for him, though he has had moments in his career in which a better passer and creator for his teammates, including earlier this year in Cleveland.
The return on Portland’s investment in Hood has been positive thus far. He’s been able to give their second-unit offense some life in the weeks since he arrived and given Stotts confidence that his team won’t hemorrhage a lead when Lillard and McCollum are out of the game. Come playoff time, those minutes will be drastically reduced, but there will still be moments in which the Trail Blazers call upon Hood to bring a scoring element to a key stretch in the early part of the second or fourth quarter. There’s still plenty of time to integrate further actions for him to run as the primary scoring option, which will make the Trail Blazers even more dangerous in the postseason, but even with very little in the Hood playbook, the team has to be pleased with what they’ve seen from him.