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Freed to be the leading man, can Rodney Hood carry Jazz offense?

Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood, center, celebrates with forward Joe Ingles, second from left, of Australia, and forward Joe Johnson, second from right, after scoring as Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers, left, walks away and forward Gordon Hayward watches during the second half in Game 7 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Utah Jazz enter the 2017-18 season without its two leading scorers from last season, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, with a looming and ominous question if they can score enough to win.

Last year, the Jazz were the 3rd best defense in the NBA and with the additions of Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, and Epke Udoh coupled with all defensive center Rudy Gobert there is no reason to believe the Jazz won’t be elite defensively this season.

The offense, on the other hand, is a complete unknown.   That unknown is Rodney Hood.   The Jazz 4th year shooting guard has shown flashes of being a bona fide scorer in the NBA.   From November 1st to November 9th last year, Hood had a 6 game stretch scoring 18 or more points.   Only twice for the rest of the season would he score 18 in back to back games and never again three games straight.

Injuries largely de-railed Hood’s season shortly after his opening stretch and particularly in the 2nd half of the season.

The 6 game stretch of excellence for Hood started when Hayward was out with a broken finger.   Digging into the numbers of Hood’s play with and without Hayward may lead one to believe that is not a coincidence

The difference in Hood’s performance with and without Hayward is dramatic.   His EFG%, weighs three-point shots, 54% with Hayward on the bench and 45% when he was on the floor.   The league average is 50% EFG.  Hood ranged from well above average v. well below average depending if Hayward was on the floor.

The biggest change was where Hood got his shots.   With Hayward off the floor, Hood took 22% of his shots in the paint non-restricted area compared to 14.7% when Hayward was on the floor.  The same is true in the mid-range where Hood took 24% of his shot when Hayward was off the floor and 19% when he was on the floor.

Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) shoots as New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) defends during the first half in an NBA basketball game Monday, March 27, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Without Hayward, Hood was able to play with the ball in his hand and use his size and length to get to his shooting spots on the floor and convert.  Whereas, with Hayward, he was playing off the action of Hayward and then reacting.

Understanding Hood’s role change without Hayward could lead one to believe that Hood’s performance without Hayward is sustainable.   However, Hood shot an incredible 57% in the mid-range when Hayward was on the bench and 52% on corner 3 shots.   Both of these are wildly above the league average (40% in mid-range  39% on corner 3).

As much as the league is moving away from the mid-range shots they are very much the key to Hood’s game.   With a bone bruise on his knee after the all-star break last year, Hood was ineffective in his primary zone, hitting on just 17 of 59 (29%) in the paint.

Healthy and unleashed by playing without Hayward as the primary scorer and ball handler this is the year for Rodney Hood to show an ability to score dependably night in and night out.    Performance in the upcoming months will let us know, but some signs show he needed to become the primary scorer to become more consistent.

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David Locke enters his ninth year as the radio play-by-play voice of the Utah Jazz, having spent the majority of his career in radio in Salt Lake City and Seattle. In the summer of 2016, Locke created the Locked on Podcast Network which has podcast daily bite sized podcasts for every NBA and NFL team. A native of Palo Alto, Calif., Locke graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles with a degree in Political Science and Sociology. Locke and his wife have a son and a daughter.

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