In times like these where the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated our lives and the world feels like it’s constantly on fire, it’s the little victories that matter. When it comes to the NBA, and the Portland Trail Blazers, one of those small wins has been watching Rodney Hood play basketball again for the first time in over a year.
Hood’s Achilles tear last December was a huge blow to a Portland team facing a dearth of competent wings. Suddenly, the Blazers found themselves scrambling to find ways to fill the hole that Hood left. Some things helped ease that burden, with the emergence of Gary Trent Jr., Carmelo Anthony’s signing the month prior, and the Trevor Ariza trade being the most noteworthy developments. However, none of those players did much to ameliorate Portland’s problems.
Now Hood is back, but he faces a different situation. For starters, he’s coming off one of the most difficult injuries to return from. Second, there are now four wings ahead of him who have shown to be better at this moment. Hood now has to figure out how he fits into this new roster. So what does his role look like? Let’s dive into it.
Let’s take a look at his offense because I don’t really have high expectations defensively for a guy coming off an Achilles tear. I also don’t have high expectations for anyone on this team defensively outside of three or four players, but I especially don’t for someone like Hood who wasn’t a spectacular defender to begin with. If he gets his way up to passable, then great! But right now, there are other ways he can contribute, most notably on offense.
Hood has been off to a less than ideal start so far on that end, making only 22% of his shots this year. For comparison, last year Hood was making 50.6% of his shots and 49% of his threes. He wasn’t going to stay that hot throughout the season, but they were high marks nevertheless.
The good news is that Hood doesn’t really need to be a high-level scorer for Portland. The Blazers have some effective wing scoring options off the bench in Anthony and Trent Jr. as well as another solid scoring big in Enes Kanter. For someone recovering from a serious injury, it’s for the best that Hood doesn’t have to be relied on heavily at all for bench scoring.
What Hood has done offensively that has helped the Blazers is facilitate. He’s averaging 1.8 assists per contest right now, and that number grows to 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. That’s important because no one that comes off the bench for Portland is particularly well known for their passing prowess. The only bench player that pops to mind as a viable passer is Harry Giles III, and he has spent most of his time stuck behind Kanter and Jusuf Nurkic. The onus is on Hood to help make the extra pass.
This is a great example of Hood making that extra pass to help a teammate get an open shot. It starts with a good crosscourt pass from Melo, but Hood’s feed to Kanter is what gets Portland two points. Kanter is such an effective inside scorer that all Hood has to do is get the ball to him, and that’s exactly what he does. His reactionary passing can help Portland’s bench find easy buckets all day long.
This is another little play that I enjoyed seeing from Hood because it shows his ability to bring the ball up and find an open guy. It’s not a particularly impressive pass and he doesn’t show any masterful manipulation of the defense in order to get Melo an open bucket. But what it shows is that he’s another guy that can be relied upon to usually make the right decision when handling the ball.
Hood being the second or third ballhandler off the bench is great because it allows guys who are solid off ball or in catch and shoot situations, like Trent Jr. and Anthony, to thrive. It also means that the team’s two best scorers — Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — can stay off the ball and draw defenders towards them, using their gravity to keep the defense on edge. Great players always require attention, and letting Lillard and McCollum use their presence to lure defenders as opposed to their on-ball skill lightens their load and opens up opportunities for others.
This bucket from Lillard should give an idea of how this could work for Portland. Hood brings the ball up and allows Lillard to set up Dennis Schroeder by making his way to the wing. A quick screen from Robert Covington gives Lillard just enough space even as Schroeder closes that gap. Hood gets it to Lillard who banks in the wonky shot. It’s an example of how having Hood able to bring the ball up for Portland opens up off-ball opportunities for others, including Lillard and McCollum.
If Hood can be a secondary or tertiary facilitator off the bench for Portland, that is positive. But what really needs to happen is that Hood needs to start making shots. That doesn’t mean he has to start taking guys off the dribble and creating a bunch of shots for himself, but if he can start capitalizing when he has an advantage, then he’ll be in business.
One thing that Terry Stotts has enabled Hood to do more of since joining Portland is attacking from the post. It’s definitely not the main thing I recommend (Portland has one wing already that does it far too often), but it is a useful tool when a weaker player is guarding you. Hood has a mismatch here and tries to take advantage, and it’s good that he recognizes the mismatch and attacks aggressively. But while his post game is a useful tool, that shouldn’t be his bread and butter.
This is really what I want to see. Hood confidently taking threes from the corner helps this team out so much. If he can get up to the level of shooting we know he’s capable of, Hood could be one of three shooters Portland employs just off the bench. He made 55.3% of his catch-and-shoot threes before his injury, which is just absurd. Combine that with his post-up ability and on-ball efficacy, and all the sudden you have plays like this.
The corner three should be the main course, but pull-up threes from Hood are a sweet dessert. It’s the perfect fusion of his on-ball skills and shooting stroke. Most of his shots actually came off pull ups last year, and he shot an impressive 48.6% on those shots and a solid 38.1% from three. Asking the guy coming off an Achilles tear to do a bunch of self-created pull ups is a lot, but if he can keep that in his back pocket for plays like this where the clock is winding down, then he becomes a valuable weapon.
All of these things are great in theory, but right now it’s still just that: theoretical. Hood definitely looks like someone who’s coming back from a major injury at the moment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing or a knock against him. Only superhumans like Kevin Durant seem capable of coming back from that injury looking good as new. It’s going to take time for Hood to get truly back up to speed.
This is where Hood coming off the bench as the ninth or 10th guy becomes important. Hood doesn’t have to be a main contributor; he just has to be a reliable option when called upon. NBA Twitter has a tendency to act like the 10th guy on a roster is suddenly the most important, when in reality they just have to be solid enough during the regular season. Once he’s back up to speed, Hood can do just that for Portland.