Utah Jazz: Rodney Hood’s offseason work could produce impressive results

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 15: Rodney Hood (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 15: Rodney Hood (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Rodney Hood spent the majority of his offseason in Salt Lake City where he worked hard on his game with assistant coach Johnnie Bryant and his dedication could pay major dividends for the Utah Jazz.

A major reason why Gordon Hayward was such a coveted free agent this past offseason was due to the fact that he took an astronomical leap between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. He had long been a solid player, but he took an extra step forward last year as he averaged a career-high 21.9 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting from the field and 39.8 percent from deep while adding 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

His efforts were enough to earn him his first career All-Star bid and propel himself into the national spotlight. Unfortunately for Utah Jazz fans, that also led to him joining a new Boston Celtics team this offseason, but such has been the typical fortune of several small market teams in recent years.

Although the final result was less than favorable, for the entirety of 2016-17, Hayward’s significant strides were absolutely electrifying to behold. Unsurprisingly, he credited much of his improvement to the hard work he put in over the offseason training under assistant coach Johnnie Bryant who became a close friend of Hayward’s and effectively elevated Gordon’s game to the next level.

With Hayward no longer on the roster, though, it’s become quite obvious that the Jazz will need others on the team to step up in a big way. No single player on the current Utah roster will be able to fully make up for the loss of the former All-Star, but as a unit, they’ll seek to take a “by committee” approach to replace Hayward’s production. Even with that being the case, there’s one key player that will unarguably have to step up more than others and that’s Rodney Hood.

Fortunately for the Jazz, if Johnnie Bryant’s track record continues, the fourth-year wing out of Duke may be able to do just that. According to a recent article from the Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones, Hood has spent practically the entire summer in Salt Lake City, working on his game underneath the very coach that helped Hayward become an All-Star.

If Hood, who averaged just 12.7 points last year as he struggled with injuries, but shot an impressive 37.1 percent from deep and put up 14.5 points per game just a season before, can match Hayward’s improvement going into his fourth year as a pro, then the Jazz could very well find themselves turning into a surprisingly competitive team.

They have the stifling defense, they have a star rim protector in Rudy Gobert, they have the necessary depth and they have an incredible albeit unheralded coach. However, the one thing they’re desperately missing is a wing capable of transforming into a reliable offensive star. Hayward was that before, and with any luck and plenty of hard work, Hood could become that moving forward.

He has a long way to go and may not be that star right off the bat in 2017-18, but ideally he’ll at least show the potential that he is headed in that direction. Hood is significantly younger than Hayward, so it’s not fair to project that he’ll instantly be able to make that kind of impact, but it is certainly justifiable to pin him as Utah’s next rising star.

Hood’s decision to stay put in SLC and work on his game came largely as a result of a straightforward challenge from Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey. Per the aforementioned article from Tony Jones, Lindsey told Hood that “he needed significant all-around improvement” from the fourth-year guard. He also challenged Hood to produce more consistency, get to the free throw line more often and “turn his offensive ability into efficient production.”

Those are absolute key points brought up by Lindsey that I bet every Jazz fan would agree with. It’s hard to predict what exactly Hood will look like this year, but based on the challenge issued by Dennis Lindsey, Hood’s willingness to stay and work in Salt Lake City to meet that challenge and Johnnie Bryant’s past track record of effective player development, I’d say it’s a safe bet that we’ll see a significantly improved Hood in 2017-18.

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And that’s precisely what the Utah Jazz will need as they look to recover from the absence of their recently departed All-Star. I’ve stated it multiple times now, but with three key players, including Rodney Hood, entering contract years, this will likely be largely an evaluation year in which the performance of Utah’s main guys will determine both their personal futures and the future of the team as a whole.

If Hood’s offseason work can produce similar dividends to that of Gordon Hayward, then he should very well be able to establish himself as a star for the Jazz now and for several years to come. There’s a lot to look forward to regarding the Utah Jazz this season, and Hood’s development is without a doubt one of the front runners.