Rodney Hood Explains The Jazz

The Jazz might have one of the most talented teams in the NBA. Their record (14–10) doesn’t quite reflect it, and most mainstream sports fans couldn’t name more than one or two of their players, but all the pieces are there. The West is wide open after the Warriors and Clippers. The Jazz can go small and play wide open or bang with you inside, and they have one of the best defensive anchors in basketball in Rudy Gobert. They have a great coach (Quin Snyder), a young star (Gordon Hayward), and now they have a point guard (George Hill). If they can get healthy, good things should follow.

In the middle of all this, there’s Rodney Hood. He was overshadowed by Jabari Parker at Duke, and he slid in the 2014 draft after contender after contender failed to see his potential as a two-way guard. Even now, starting and playing 30 minutes per game, he’s often overlooked when people mention the future in Utah. But Hood’s come into his own faster than expected, and he’s better than most fans realize. In that way, he’s the perfect Jazz player.

He’s also a good candidate to explain what’s happening in Utah this year. Hood arrived with Quin Snyder two years ago, and if the Jazz can take the next step this season, he’ll be a big part of wherever they go. Last week, we talked about the season so far, the expectations, life in Salt Lake City and more.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).

Andrew Sharp: So far this year, every time it looks like the Jazz are about to get rolling, there’s a setback. The Hayward injury. The Favors injury. George Hill missing games. How have you guys handled this?

Rodney Hood: We understand it’s a long season, and things happen with pretty much every team in the league. We’re weathering the storm right now. Once everybody gets completely healthy, we’ll hit our stride. But I think we’re handing it well. Guys are out there playing, competing. And we’ve dealt with that throughout my first three years here, and coach’s first three years here. One thing about us, we’re always gonna go out there and compete and give ourselves a chance to win. That’s what we’ve been doing.

AS: Over the past few years you guys have shown flashes, and this was supposed to be the year it all gets real. Do you feel any extra pressure to produce?

Hood: Nah, not pressure. It’s definitely not pressure. I feel like we’re built for it. We had a tough training camp, we got some key additions. Guys on the team last year got better. Teams always know we’re gonna play hard, but we got better skill-wise. I think it’s going to be a good year. Once we get everybody—Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, everybody—everybody will start to see.

AS: One game where I started to see that was Houston (the Jazz won 120–101). Best offense in the league, they beat Golden State, but you guys just shut them all the way down. What did you emphasize in that game? How do you prepare for a guy like James Harden?

Hood: Man, he’s one of the hardest guys to prepare for in the league. He’s obviously one of the best one-on-one players, and pick-and-roll players, in the league. And he’s got so many weapons around him that can shoot the ball. Guys that can run. That’s the biggest thing, keep them out of transition and make them play in the halfcourt. It’s easier said than done, but I think we did a good job of that.

AS: As a guard, you’re drawing some of the toughest matchups in the league night-to-night. Is it more exhausting to deal with Harden and Russ off the dribble, or get stuck chasing Klay and Steph all over the court?

Hood: Uh, [laughs] I don’t want to sound… That’s like asking for the lesser of two evils. Both of them are so tough. You know? Regardless of running off screens or taking people off the dribble. But I think [either way] it makes my job easier knowing we’ve got one of the best rim protectors in the league. One of the better schemes with Coach Snyder. That helps us out a lot. We don’t ever feel like we’re out there on an island.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

AS: Yeah, obviously it helps to have Rudy healthy this year. How important is he to what you guys do defensively?

Hood: He makes all the difference in the world. We get aggressive on the perimeter because we know he’s back there. Rudy really embraces the role. Best shot blocker in the league, best rim protector in the league. We look forward to that every single game.

AS: Offensively, I know he’s been in and out of the lineup, but what are some of the ways George Hill has helped thus far?

Hood: He’s been a leader for us. He’s been very vocal. On the court, obviously, he’s a great shooter. He can stretch the floor and create for us, so me and Gordon don’t have to do as much playmaking. We got a guy who can make plays for us. Just his presence out there means a lot. So hopefully he can get back healthy and we can keep it rolling.

AS: Over the past year or two, your playmaking and shooting have been a huge part of this team beginning to take the next step. How do you see your role on this team?

Hood: I’m a guy that can stretch the floor, make plays in pick-and-roll, and then play off the ball as well. It depends on the lineup. When I’m with the starting group, I’ll kinda play off of Gordon. When I’m with the second group, I’ll take on a different role, getting aggressive and looking for my shot. But it’s just learning. I’m still…