It was only last February when Rodney Hood was traded for the second time in a two-year span.
The Cleveland Cavaliers — a franchise that hoped to simultaneously vie for a championship in 2018 and build a core with eyes on the future — first acquired Hood from the Utah Jazz, the team that drafted and developed him for three-and-a-half seasons.
Spending 83 total games with the wine and gold, Hood experienced playing with a megastar like LeBron James, a deep playoff run that ended abruptly at the hands of the Golden State Warriors and an all-of-a-sudden rebuild the following campaign, which led to him being on the move again. This time, it was back to the west coast with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Just like the previous year, Hood had to find a quick fit with a team with stars aspiring to do big things in the postseason. Yet unlike the previous year, he found his mark and proved what he was capable of in two successful Western Conference playoff series.
Portland ultimately fell to the same powerhouse Warriors, but Hood found a rhythm that helped him decide to re-sign with the organization who gave him an opportunity to shine and rediscover the individual success he had in him to take his game to another level.
“I always knew that, even when I was going through what I was going through [in Cleveland],” Hood told Basketball Insiders. “I had a good time here. I wound up playing in the NBA Finals, which is an amazing thing for me.
“But it was great to play well and for everybody to see what I could bring to the table and to be somewhere where people believe in your game and stuff like that.”
Of course, Blazers’ head coach Terry Stotts is a big believer. He remembers when past iterations of his team would have problems containing Hood, an effective scorer who was once a primary offensive option with division rival Utah.
Stotts saw it first-hand when the crafty swingman poured in over 14 points per game on 70.9 percent true shooting in Portland’s semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets. Still, Hood was getting acclimated on-the-fly despite the success.
“It’s really difficult for players to come in in mid-season, especially to a good team, and trying to fit in without disrupting and still making an impact,” Stotts said.
This year, it’s been different. With 16 games and a full September training camp added to those aforementioned three months, Hood has spent ample time with the Blazers to get a true feel for his teammates and Stotts’ system.
“I think he gives us a lot of freedom, offensively, to just make basketball plays,” Hood told Basketball Insiders. “He encouraged me to try and find post-ups and isos — especially in transition — but he just encourages us to play basketball. He doesn’t really put a strain on us or anything like that, which has allowed us to be a solid offensive team.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the pecking order in Portland. There’s Damian Lillard — a four-time All-Star who’s always in the MVP conversation — who gets first dibs. Then, you have CJ McCollum, a dynamic threat that only needs one shot to get going before he drops 30 points at the snap of a finger. That backcourt duo has been the NBA’s standard-bearer of putting up points in bunches since it was formed five years ago.
Being an aggressive scorer in his own right, Hood has finely adjusted to playing off both of them. Stotts already sees a higher comfort level than before. He’s able to pick his spots better, and in turn, the Blazers — specifically, Lillard and McCollum — have looked for him more, especially early in games and during the fourth quarter when they’ve been under pressure.
“When those guys get hot, you’ve got to figure out a way to stay involved in the game — whether it’s trying to offensive rebound, the defensive end — not just get caught into watching those guys play,” Hood told Basketball Insiders. “They do a good job of just finding other people — and you’ve got to be ready to knock it down.”
And ready Hood has been. According to NBA.com, 79 of his 131 attempts off passes have come from Lillard and McCollum. In those instances, he has gone 49.4 percent from the field — and that includes a 47.2 percent three-ball clip.
Maybe the most encouraging part about his production is that it doesn’t only come from that. While Hood is the league’s fifth-ranked catch-shooter beyond the arc, he is also its fourth-best pull-up shooter by field goal percentage. So there are shots being created for him *and* there are shots he’s created on his own off the dribble.
“I think that helps all players, knowing, from minutes to shots — it always helps the psyche of a player to be able to know that, to have that certainty,” Hood told Basketball Insiders of his role.
“I’m getting used to it. I think we can even get better as far as all our chemistry on the court. But I think it’s been good so far just talking, and they’re getting me involved and then I’m playing off of those guys. It’s been ever-growing. Just getting better at it, and I think it’ll get better going forward.”
Individual success is one thing, team success is another — and Portland hasn’t had a whole lot of that recently. Overcome with injuries to its key big men down low, the team has had difficulty not only with rebounding but with the defensive end as a result. Second chances have been a killer whenever stops are made. Stotts and Hood both know in order to combat that, a better group effort is necessary to crash the glass.
“Giving really good offensive teams multiple possessions, it’s hard to guard that,” Hood told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve just got to continue to clean it up and help each other out.”
“We’re not the same rebounding team that we have been in the past few years, so we have to make up for it in other ways,” Stotts said. “We can’t assume other guys are going to get the rebound. Have more of a mentality of ‘go get it’ rather than wait for somebody else to get it.”
Carmelo Anthony was signed last week to provide a spark in that frontcourt in multiple ways. Thus far, it’s been on the boards and in the points column. He helped the Blazers snap their four-game losing streak with 25 points and 8 rebounds in a game where Portland outrebounded the Chicago Bulls, 55-37 — and 42 of those were on the defensive end.
That’s the kind of mentality this team will have to employ if it wants to get back into the postseason — especially in a crowded Western Conference. The collective performance just hasn’t been good enough to this point. There’s no hiding from that.
It is, however, just late November. We have yet to approach the quarter-season mark. Teams that started hot have begun to cool down, and teams that came out chilly have begun to heat up. So is life in the NBA, a constant roller coaster.
“Keep playing. Keep grinding. Keep working hard. It always turns around, man,” Hood told Basketball Insiders. “The NBA season is so long. We’ve probably got 60-odd something more games. It can be turned around.
“Nobody’s made the playoffs yet. Nobody’s won an NBA Championship yet. We’re not in a spot where we want to be, but we’re not in a terrible spot. We’ve just got to keep grinding.”
Hood is no stranger to this game. The 27-year-old has been in the league for six years. He’s matured since his younger days in Utah. From playing in the NBA Finals to being a part of the playoffs twice with different teams who dealt for him, he’s learned from what he’s gone through over the last couple of years.
“It feels like it’s been a minute,” Hood told Basketball Insiders. “It feels like… this feels right, I guess, to be in my sixth year. It feels right.”
And though he’s found a home in Portland where things have clicked right away, he believes his growing days are far from over.
“It’s just evolving,” Hood told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t think I’m a finished product. I’m just going to keep evolving and keep working and we’ll see where that lands me in a few years.”
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