Utah Jazz: Is Rodney Hood expendable after all?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 25: Rodney Hood #5 of the Utah Jazz looks on from the bench against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of the 121-108 win by the Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on November 25, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 25: Rodney Hood #5 of the Utah Jazz looks on from the bench against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of the 121-108 win by the Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on November 25, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /

Despite the absence of Rodney Hood, the Utah Jazz have played some of their best basketball of the season over the last four games. Is this a coincidence produced by a small sample size or something more?

Coming into this season, there were high hopes among Utah Jazz fans that Rodney Hood could transform into the team’s new go-to guy. He had shown some promise in previous years and despite the fact that 2016-17 was an injury-riddled season for him, he once again had flashes where his shot was dead-on and he was able to score in bunches.

However, to start off the 2017-18 season, Hood didn’t exactly come through for the Jazz. He looked inconsistent, suffered a leg injury and it looked like it was going to be more of the same for the beleaguered Jazzman. Just when it appeared that Hood was destined for yet another year of mediocrity, though, suddenly he began to turn things around in a big way.

Beginning with the first game of Utah’s most recent four-game road trip which started in New York, Hood put up an astounding 30 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-12 from deep. He topped that in the game against the Orlando Magic as he finished with 31 points on 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) shooting from the field and 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) from deep. He was critical in Utah’s following two wins over Chicago and Milwaukee, and quite frankly it was starting to look like Rodney Hood had truly arrived.

Then, the old familiar injury bug (that perhaps is more familiar with Rodney than about any other player on the team) swooped in and took him down once again, this time with a sore ankle. With a contest against the Denver Nuggets looming at that time, many thought (including myself) that without their leading scorer, the Jazz would be in big trouble.

However, the opposite was indeed quite the case as the Jazz used an overwhelming second half to topple the Nuggets by a score of 106-77. Oh yeah, and they did that not only with Rodney Hood out but also without Rudy Gobert, Joe Johnson or Dante Exum.

But that was just a fluke, right? Denver had an off game and Utah was hitting shots, isn’t that correct? Well, not exactly. Since that game, the Jazz have gone on to beat the LA Clippers by 19, the New Orleans Pelicans in an incredible come-from-behind six-point win and the Washington Wizards by a mind-blowing 47 points. Utah’s offense has thrived during those four games without Hood as they’ve posted a league-best offensive rating of 123.5. That mark is astounding.

Not only that, but they’ve had the league’s third best defensive rating during that span of 97.1 and the best net rating at 26.5. Likewise, they’ve also been the second best team in terms of field goal percentage (52.9 percent), three-point percentage (45 percent) and assists (29 per game). In other words, even without the guy that still remains Utah’s leading scorer despite his extended absence at 17.7 points per game, the Jazz are absolutely thriving on offense, perhaps playing the best they have on that end of the court all season long.

And part of the reason for that is that Hood’s replacements in his absence – Alec Burks and Royce O’Neale – have been absolutely sensational. In the four games that Hood has been out, Burks is putting up 23.3 points per game on 59.6 percent shooting from the floor and 52.4 percent from deep. Those are unbelievable marks! Not only that, but his defense has looked much improved and while it’s an extremely small sample size, in these four games Burks has looked every bit as good, if not better, than Rodney Hood.

O’Neale, meanwhile, although he hasn’t had as much of an impact as Burks, has played extremely solid ball as well. His biggest skill is his defense where he outmatches both Hood and Alec, but his offense has been a nice bonus of late as well as he’s putting up six points on 52.9 percent shooting from the field and 60 percent from deep. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Now, do I think those shooting percentages are sustainable for either of those guys? Not really. But, even though it’s an incredibly small sample size, both at the very least have looked consistent in these last four outings, which is something that can’t be said about Hood at all this season, not even in a stretch that small. Burks’ last four games in particular have been more impressive than any four consecutive games we’ve seen out of Rodney this year.

Not only that, but both Burks and O’Neale have been better defenders. One would expect that from O’Neale since that’s what he’s known for, but Burks’ improved D has been a nice little perk.

Therefore, with all this info laid out before us of how well Utah has played in Hood’s absence and how Burks and O’Neale have filled his void so well that he hasn’t even been missed, it’s hard not to wonder, is Rodney Hood really in line to be a key cog for this Jazz team or is he actually rather expendable?

I don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction either way based on four games, but honestly, I’m leaning pretty significantly towards the latter. Hood has long been the Jazz player that’s drawn the largest amount of my frustration and as he currently is sidelined once again with injury, I can’t say that my opinion on the matter has changed much.

Sure, Burks hasn’t been healthy either for multiple seasons, but Rodney’s seemingly endless array of injuries that appear to happen almost bi-weekly with little or no contact are starting to get extremely old. Even if Hood really can maintain his team-leading scoring mark, if he’s going to have to sit out every two weeks to recover from some minor ding, is it worth constantly modifying the rotation to make room for and replace him?

Or on a more long-term level, is it really worth paying him big money this offseason as a restricted free agent?

As I said, that’s not a question I’m ready to answer yet, especially considering that the Jazz still have 58 games to go this season and there’s plenty that could change in the coming months. However, weighing and measuring Hood’s role with this team moving forward will certainly be a legitimate discussion.

If he continues to be inconsistent and battle injuries, then Utah may need to think twice before extending him a hefty contract this offseason, particularly if Alec Burks has truly rediscovered himself and keeps up his recent level of play. Burks’ contract has long been a source of angst for Jazz fans, but if he keeps playing like he has and Hood can’t stay on the floor or produce consistently, then whatever Utah would hypothetically offer Hood this offseason could end up making Burks’ contract look like a gift from heaven.

Furthermore, even if Hood does make a return and continues to play how he was just before going down to injury, Utah still may want to think long and hard about his future. Yes, once again it’s only been four games, but the Jazz have made it pretty clear (they did last year as well) that they’re pretty capable of winning and winning big without Rodney Hood.

Thus, in spite of several trade rumors surrounding other guys on this Jazz roster, perhaps a deal to move Hood for a more pressing need could be Utah’s best course of action, or at the very least, passing on him in free agency to open up more money to sign guys that will have more of an impact than what it appears Hood is going to have at the price he’ll likely demand.

As much as I’ve tried to be patient and optimistic with Hood, his constant inconsistency and bouts with injury have really started to wear that patience thin. Perhaps he will still turn things around the remainder of this season, but it feels like his time with the Jazz has been filled with lots of the words “maybe, perhaps, if only and someday.”

The Jazz have shown pretty clearly in recent games that they can win big without him, so perhaps it’s finally time to make a change. Maybe it’s finally becoming clear that rather than being a key part of this Jazz core, Rodney Hood is actually somewhat expendable.

Next: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder: Keys to keep the win streak alive

There’s only 58 games left this season for him to prove otherwise, and given that he’s already listed as out for tonight’s contest against Oklahoma City, that’s one less game that he has to convince me that he’s vital to this Jazz team.

In other words, time is quickly running out for Rodney Hood to prove his worth before hitting restricted free agency.