Last season, Gordon Hayward scored a team-high 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists over 34.5 minutes for the Utah Jazz.
As a defensive-oriented team, Utah relied on Hayward’s scoring ability and enjoyed a great deal of success, posting a surprising 51-31 record on the way to the playoffs.
However, Hayward is now gone after signing with the Boston Celtics in free agency. As a result, he leaves a gigantic void, especially on the offensive end of the court. And since the team didn’t make any major personnel moves this summer (other than trading for pass-first point guard Ricky Rubio), they’ll be relying on the development of one young player in particular: Rodney Hood.
After taking a step forward in 2015-2016, his second year in the NBA, when he averaged 14.5 points on 42.0 percent shooting over 32.2 minutes per contest, Hood took a step backwards last season, putting up 12.7 points on 40.8 percent shooting over just 27.0 minutes per game.
According to both Hood and general manager Dennis Lindsey, the fourth-year wing will be relied on to take over where Hayward left off.
“He told me the truth,” Hood said of Lindsey via Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. “He said he wanted me to get better and to prepare myself for a bigger role.
“There were a lot of challenges we gave Rodney,” Lindsey told Jones. “What he needs to be doing, his commitment level to his development. And he’s responded this summer. He’s going to be given a prominent role, and his development will be significant to us.”
While Hood’s overall shooting percentage decreased, he shot an improved 37.1 percent from three last season compared to a 35.9 percent mark the year before. That is one area where he can keep improving and where the team will likely rely on him heavily. This summer, he, along with Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, Joe Johnson, Alec Burks, Raul Neto and Joe Ingles, all stuck around for extra coaching.
“I think the training is important for us as a team, and it shows our commitment to each other,” Hood said. “The beginning of the season is going to be important to us, and we want to get off to a good start. So the faster we start to gel as a group, the better off we’ll be.”
The Jazz pride themselves on cultivating their talent from within. According to Lindsey, their mentality with Hood is exactly the same as with every other player on the roster.
“In general, we feel like we can help players get better, and now we have a track record,” Lindsey explained. “Guys know that if they are doing what’s needed in-house, they have a base to improve.”
Unfortunately, Hood struggled mightily in the final playoff games of their sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals last season. Over the final three games, he combined to shoot just 6-for-26 (23.1 percent), including 1-for-11 (9.1 percent) from beyond the arc over 81 total minutes.
Therefore, he certainly doesn’t want to pick up where he left off.
The Jazz have high hopes for their 2014 first-round pick as they will scramble to figure out how to move on from losing their best player.