Will Rodney Hood want to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offseason?
When the Cleveland Cavaliers made the move to acquire Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz, he was a player who other players pegged to be a breakout star on a team devoid of scorers.
He had just scored 30 points on 12-14 shooting against the New Orleans Pelicans a week before being traded by the Jazz but that’s not necessarily why.
Hood was having a career year prior to the trade, averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game, taking a career-high 14.2 field goal attempts per game and having a career-high usage rate of 27.3 percent.
More than any other season, Hood looked comfortable in the role of a go-to scorer, holding the second-highest scoring average on the Jazz prior to the All-Star Break — just 2.8 points per game less than Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell, just to give you an idea of how solid of a scorer he actually is.
He averaged just 1.1 points per game less than Kevin Love, a fan favorite in Cleveland.
This came after incremental but annual improvements that saw him averaging 8.7 points per game as a rookie (14.7 points per 36 minutes), 14.5 points per game as a sophomore (16.3 points per 36 minutes) and 12.5 points per game in his third season (16.9 points per 36 minutes) before his bump to 16.8 points per game (21.8 points per 36 minutes) prior to the trade deadline.
When he was healthy with the Cavs, he was certainly a solid scorer. He scored 15 points in 18 minutes of play in his debut then followed that up with 14 points in 24 minutes the next game.
Those numbers might have seemed unsustainable to some but he was averaging 14.5 points per game and 21.9 points per 36 minutes, on par with his scoring pace prior to the trade deadline.
He would score in double-figures in 13 out of the 21 regular season games he played for the Cavs. Though his style isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing offensive display that you’ll find, it was definitely effective. He even became a starter for the Cavs — just a month after being acquired.
All was well then.
Of course, in the playoffs, coaches are likely to play their starters more than their second unit players.
Coming into Game 1 of the opening round, Hood was a starter along with Jeff Green before the two were replaced by J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver so that the Cavaliers could play with more energy and fluidity on both ends of the court.
Although Hood scored 9 points on 50.0 percent shooting from the field in Game 1 (just one of four players to reach that point total and one of three players to shoot above 43.0 percent from the field), when he plays beside LeBron James it’s clear that the Cavaliers just want him to catch-and-shoot.
There’s a circle of fans that ignore the idea of rhythm and role in the case of Hood and it seems to be the same line of illogical rationale that’s affecting Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue’s thinking.
How can a player that’s sitting in the corner all game be expected to be as aggressive as Lue, and likely James, would like him to be?
Secondly, if that player that’s in the corner rarely receives the ball, with long stretches coming where he doesn’t even touch it so that he can pass it to someone else, how can that player be in-rhythm?
In the case of the Cavaliers other shooters and scorers like Kevin Love and Kyle Korver, there’s an effort made by both Lue and James to get them the ball early and often to keep them in rhythm. The same effort isn’t made for Smith but James will definitely look for Smith more than he looks for Hood.
As a matter of fact, to this point in the playoffs, James has passed the ball to Smith 119 times and Hood just 39 times.
Hood has yet to cash in on a three-point attempt from a James pass but that he has 6 three-point attempts to Smith’s 37 three-point attempts is really just more evidence of how little Hood receives the ball and how little rhythm he must have when he receives it.
Smith has received three times as many passes from James as Hood and taken six times as many three-point attempts meaning he’s twice as likely to take a shot from three-point range as Hood. Some of that is because of Smith’s gunslinger nature. The rest of the reason is encapsulated by one word.
Smith shot 31.3 percent from three-point range despite his opportunities and while Hood only made 16.7 percent of his three-point attempts, and should be held accountable, it’s not as if a player who has made 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts for his career has suddenly forgot how to shoot.
He’s forgot how he fits, perhaps. Forgot what it feels like to have teammates that believe in you, maybe. But has he forgot how to play when there was evidence — even after his trade — that he’s the same type of scorer that the Cavs thought he was when they traded for him?
He just needs the opportunity to be himself.
Him getting “minutes” isn’t an opportunity in and of itself.
The team has to actively engage in making him a valued member of their scoring contributions.
They have to pass him the ball. Give him touches. Let him operate as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. Call more plays for him than that right-to-left dribble handoff that seems to never work.
Again, it makes sense for James have preferences considering the trust and familiarity between the Cavaliers’ championship core. However, it makes no sense if you’re truly trying to integrate a player into said core.
That said, Hood’s move to the second unit is a solid one if he receives opportunity to be a scorer. Instead, he’s running in the second-unit with Love (who is looking to score) and Jordan Clarkson (who is always looking to score).
Clarkson has passed the ball to Hood a total of 16 times in 10 games (1.6 passes per game).
Additionally, while everyone killed Hood for his inefficiency, Clarkson made just 29.6 percent of his field goal attempts and 27.3 percent of his three-point attempts in the Cavs semifinals series. He made just 32.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 14.3 percent of his three-point attempts in the opening round.
Hood made just 11.1 percent of his field goal attempts in the semifinals and didn’t hit a three but Clarkson took 27 field goal attempts and 11 three-point attempts to Hood’s 9 field goal attempts and 3 three-point attempts.
Everyone must have forgotten about the significance of sample sizes.
A much more accurate description of Hood’s play was found in the first round as he found more, though still not enough, opportunity. Hood shot 45.6 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three-point range in the opening round.
The three-point percentages were still ugly but that was the case for everyone not named Love or Korver.
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All that is to say that while Hood hasn’t played up to expectations, only a handful of players have done so consistently: James, Korver, Smith, Tristan Thompson and George Hill. Love had a stellar second round series while Green has had his moments throughout the playoffs.
However, outside of those six players — four of whom are NBA champions — you’d be hard-pressed to find a Cavs player that deserves the criticism that’s been levied at Hood this postseason. It’s one of the reasons why his refusal to enter Game 5 for James made sense. It was a reaction to his role and his relatively short-leash.
A leash that doesn’t exist for Green or Clarkson, fellow members of the second-unit. One that didn’t exist for Smith when he was struggling in the regular season and struggling to hit from three-point range in the opening round of the 2018 playoffs.
Former Cav Richard Jefferson certainly has a point in that it’s important to take advantage of every minute you can get, Hood is set to enter restricted free agency just a couple of months after having twins and at 25-years-old and entering his first free agency period, he’s understandably irate. While many may feel his play has cost him money, people who watched him before the start of the postseason will notice the correlation between his role and productivity.
The small role and decreased productivity led to increased frustration that reached it’s boiling point when Lue opted to play rookie Cedi Osman, a fan and locker room favorite with infectious energy, over him in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and keeping the struggling Clarkson on the floor.
Though this isn’t the first time Hood has shown his immaturity, it’s also not the first time Lue has shown a tendency to show his favoritism, the first time the Cavs have failed to successfully integrate a player who should be third on the pecking list of scorers or the first time the Cavs’ “LeBron plus Space” system has led to a decrease in productivity and assertiveness from a new acquisition.
It’s not a given that the Cavs would want Hood to return since integrating his skillset hasn’t gone well this postseason. It’s also not a given that Hood would want to return.
In fact, with the lack of opportunity he’s had in Cleveland, it’s possible that he wants to sign with another team. Some team, who will look at the free agent market for wings and realize the number of young and talented players at the two positions is pretty low, will offer him a nice-sized contract that the Cavs will have to choose if they want to match.
In the postseason, the Cavs haven’t needed the Jazz’s version of Hood just yet but that’s only because James is playing the best offensive basketball of his career.
If James leaves, that opens up the door even more for Hood to re-sign in Cleveland. If he stays, the only reason the Cavs and Hood would be a great match is if there comes a point in time this postseason when the team realizes it needs more than a system of LeBron, shooters and posting-up mismatches to survive.
They’ll need another playmaker to rely on for points.
The player that Lue seemingly would rely on Clarkson or Green to be, if he could. The player that George Hill seems to be at times.
The player that Hood already is, if he’s allowed to be himself.
*All stats gathered from www.basketball-reference.com and stats.nba.com