Jazz gaining trust in rookie Rodney Hood

Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood drives to the basket in Utah's 87-82 win over New York on March 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood drives to the basket in Utah’s 87-82 win over New York on March 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder broke out a new wrinkle with the game on the line against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night.

His team was clinging to a three-point lead when he decided to run the offense through rookie Rodney Hood with just over two minutes remaining.

Hood initiated the offense on three straight crunch-time possessions and hit a running floater with 1:37 left that basically put the 87-82 game away. The rookie tied a career-high with 17 points and played his most minutes since returning from a foot injury in mid-February.

The offensive tweak won’t be permanent, and leading scorer Gordon Hayward being out with a back injury was a factor, but it was a glimpse of how important Hood is to the future of the Jazz.

“I just knocked down shots, I got wide open shots tonight,” Hood said afterward. “At the end of the game, coach put the ball in my hands. That was a first. I just had to try to make the right play.

“I know I missed a couple in the first half and everybody just told me to keep shooting. That’s what I do, so I just had confidence in myself and knocked them down.”

Everything wasn’t perfect for Hood — he was passive at times and turned over the ball on one of those late possessions — but Snyder is showing more trust in the former Duke Blue Devil.

The Jazz have won eight of 10 games since the All-Star break thanks to the top scoring defense in the league in February. There remains a lack of offense with Alec Burks out for the season and rookies Hood and Dante Exum still finding their way. The roster needs more scoring from the wing and that’s part of why Hood was drafted No. 23 overall.

Snyder has been careful with Hood’s minutes since the return from injury, but it’s clear his presence is needed on offense.

“He makes shots … (has) the ability to space the floor. He’s also gets to the rim, too,” Snyder said. “The plan, really in the beginning, Rodney was going to play. Whether he was going to start or how many minutes, you never know. … He’s good enough and we need him.”

Part of the reason Trey Burke was moved to the bench was to help give the second unit an additional scoring punch. Even with the starters, teams give extra attention to Hayward and power forward Derrick Favors, but Exum and Joe Ingles haven’t consistently taken advantage.

That’s where Hood can impact the game as he grows. He has range beyond the 3-point line, but can also drive to the basket. His mobility in a long 6-foot-8 frame fits Snyder’s defensive scheme.

“Another offensive player that can stretch the floor out,” Favors said. “Another guy that can score the basketball and do a number of things for us.

“I think Rodney can let Gordon take a breather for a minute and provide points, defense, whatever. It’ll help things a lot. Guys have to respect him. … It opens up the court a little bit more for everybody.”

Like many of the young Jazz players, Hood must develop consistency.

There was a 17-point explosion against the Knicks, but a three-point effort two nights before against Brooklyn. He reached double figures in three of four games two weeks ago, but was shut out by the Bucks in the middle of that stretch. Burke, Exum and Rudy Gobert have all had similar consistency issues.

“It’s just day by day just grinding,” Hood said. “There might be some bad days, I might makes some turnovers or miss a shot or whatever. But I’ve just got to continue to stay with it. Because everybody goes through that. It’s growing pains.

“(Snyder) really doesn’t talk to me about scoring. It’s more about playing with energy, playing with juice and just shooting and not thinking. That’s something I did at the beginning of the year and now he just wants me to play free.”

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