A good bit of Gregg Popovich praise is a worthwhile keepsake, no matter how modest it may seem.
The San Antonio Spurs coach doled out some for Rodney Hood late Thursday night after the 6-foot-8 forward diced up Popovich’s team for 29 points in a 100-89 Jazz victory. The Spurs coach’s crusty exterior cracked for a precious few moments.
“You noticed he was pretty good, huh? Oh yeah, it hurt,” he said about Hood. “That was nice to watch, in a weird sort of way.”
It was nicer viewing still for Jazz fans, who long have harbored great expectations for Hood and saw them fulfilled when he scored 11 points while going 5 for 9 in the fourth quarter alone. Utah (15-18) was able to salvage a needed win without its franchise center and exciting rookie.
As Hood sank an array of shots — a layup, a 22-footer, a corner fadeaway, a 15-foot turnaround jumper — during that crucial stretch, a question seemed to be hovering over the performance. Where has that Rodney Hood been? The Rodney Hood that the Jazz expected to help lessen the loss of Gordon Hayward and potentially emerge as the leading scorer Utah needed?
Well, coach Quin Snyder said he’s been here all season if you were looking for him.
“He’s embraced that from the beginning of the year,” Snyder said. “He had that window where he was out, and he kind of picked up where he left off. He strung together a couple 30-point games, and that’s kind of the player he’s become.”
Hood quietly is putting together his best season as a pro in his fourth season. He leads the Jazz in scoring at 18.1 ppg, and his 3-point percentage (42.4 percent) is about where the coaching staff always has believed it could be. Hood always has possessed textbook form on his shooting stroke since his Duke days, but more of those shots are going in than ever.
People may remember the 0-for-11 disaster Hood had against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 1. What they might not realize is that the 25-year-old has scored in double figures in each of the 18 games since, and he’s made at least three 3-pointers in each of his last eight. No other Jazz player can claim an active streak that long.
There’s a few reasons this statistical evidence hasn’t matched outside perception. For one, Hood again has missed time to injury. While the nine games he’s sat out with various ailments are left in the hands of the team’s medical staff, sitting out inevitably leads to fan grumbling. He’s also played 13 games off the bench, which doesn’t seem befitting of a first-option scorer. Donovan Mitchell’s rise, probably unfairly, also has cast a shadow over his contributions.
But the contributions are there. Hood has found a rhythm in his minutes and become a go-to guy particularly beyond the arc. He’s started firing more aggressively now that he understands he’s harder to block than other Jazzmen.
“Sometimes those shots, even though they’re contested, they’re clean looks for him because of the elevation that he gets on his jump shot,” Snyder said. “We need him to take those shots. More and more he’s understanding that if he passes up those shots, if he’s not as aggressive, we may not get as good a shot over the course of a possession.”
Among the many players on the roster, Hood may receive the most scrutiny for his mindset. Injuries and his occasional episodes of pregame gastric distress help fuel fan discussion that he isn’t prepared to be a leader on the team.
But those close to him within the locker room have a different perspective. Snyder said while outsiders may “psychoanalyze” Hood, for him it’s been as simple as being more aggressive. Teammates agree.
“He’s a great guy, a great player,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “If you let him play, he’s going to have games like that. Obviously he was on tonight — he’s that type of talent. For me, I don’t think too much. He doesn’t think too much. He’s just gotta play.”
Hood is one of the Jazzmen with the most intrigue this offseason. As a restricted free agent, his play will dictate what kind of market he’ll be able to cash in on this summer. It also will help the Jazz decide if they’re ready to match a big offer.
For right now, he’s valued by the only team he’s known, and he’s delivering on the improvements that were promised since last summer.
“I gotta be real aggressive,” he said. “Especially when they’re not being real aggressive on me and I can see daylight, just rise up and shoot the ball. My teammates give me a lot of confidence to do that.”
RODNEY HOOD BRINGING HOME THE BUCKETS
The 6-foot-8 Jazz guard is setting career highs in the following areas in his fourth year:
Points • 18.1 ppg (career 13.0 ppg)
3-point FG percentage • 42.4 percent (career 37.3 percent)
3-point FGs • 3.0 per game (career 1.9 per game)
FT percentage • 86.6 percent (career 82.5 percent)
FT attempts • 2.8 per game (career 2.2 per game)
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER AT UTAH JAZZ
Where • Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • 6 p.m. Saturday
TV • AT&T Sports Network
Radio • 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone
Records • Oklahoma City (16-15); Utah (15-18)
Last meeting • Oklahoma City won 107-79 (Dec. 20, 2017 at Oklahoma City)
About the Thunder • Oklahoma City has won eight of its last 11 games, including two wins in OKC over the Jazz. … Russell Westbrook ranks fourth in NBA history with 89 career triple-doubles, and he’s added 10 this season. ... Carmelo Anthony scores 33 percent of his points on midrange shots, the highest ratio in the NBA.
About the Jazz • Rodney Hood has made at least three 3-pointers in each of his last eight games and is averaging 19.4 ppg during that stretch. ... Utah has missed rookie guard Donovan Mitchell (17.7 ppg) the last two games, center Rudy Gobert (11.6 ppg) the last five and guard Raul Neto (4.9 ppg) the last six. … The Jazz rank third in the NBA in 3-point shooting with a 38.5 percent team average beyond the arc.