As the dust continues to settle on the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Rodney Hood has emerged as object of my offseason acquisition affection. Not only because of his game and fit, but also because his current team’s situation going forward could make him realistically gettable — even if it would take an overpay at the time of the transaction.
The Jazz have been incredible this season despite battling key injuries. As I’m writing this, Rodney Hood has only appeared in 55 of the Jazz’s 76 games. However, this offseason will likely not be a perfectly in-time and on key tresillo for Utah as there are likely to be a few bum notes and Starbucks “Jazz” compilations-like free agent decisions that bastardize the essence of the Jazz with some Michael Bublé or Kenny G lineup choices.
Jazz are in 4th in the West. George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have played 13 games together. (11-2)— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) March 31, 2017
Key contributors to Utah’s core — Gordon Hayward, George Hill and Joe Ingles will hit the open market. Meanwhile Rudy Gobert’s contract extension kicks in at $21+ million and Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Joe Johnson will all be on the books for over $10 million next season. It’s highly unlikely that Utah can bring the entire orchestra back together and surely retaining Hayward and Hill will be their highest priorities.
With so much money wrapped up in his teammates — some who can play his position(s) — and Hood’s injury history, Dell Demps may be able to construct an irrational heist attempt that may get them caught red-handed. However, after risking some of the future the Pels could meet their end goal of adding that wing that has been so sorely missed since that 1-1/2 year Jamal Mashburn run — much like Thurgood, Scarface and Brian in Half Baked in their quest the save Kenny’s, “Sweet virgin ass” from Nasty Nate and themselves from their own prison stay. The risks pale in comparison to the reward.
Rodney Hood would fit into the Buddy Hield trade exception should the Pels be operating over the cap at the time of this potential trade (which may be the case as the Pelicans would have to wait until after this year’s draft to be able to trade their 2018 pick and perhaps they’d even have to wait out free agency as the Jazz solve their roster puzzle and the Pelicans decide it’s future with Jrue Holiday). This is important because Utah would probably prefer to not bring any additional salary back considering their finances going forward.
However, Tim Frazier could also be thrown in for some George Hill insurance or additional playmaking should Utah desire a player in return — though I do see this as a picks for player swap. It’s the kind of move Dell Demps loves — picks for a young veteran that is ready to contribute now/potentially take a leap in production. A lot of people hate this approach, but more than any other time in Dell’s tenure the time is right to risk the future for the present.
As Oleh noted this week, the Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins pairing is showing it’s devastating potential moving forward. For the first time in the history of New Orleans’ basketball, this team has two transcendent talents that when paired together form a match up problem no other team — outside of perhaps the Jazz — in the league is built to handle.
As the rest of the league has evolved into the basketball version of bait balling, New Orleans two big men should feast efficiently on the small ball movement for years to come — owning boards, blocking shots, changing shots and dominating the paint while also stretching the floor in a high/low game built around two bigs with solid jumpers.
Much of this isn’t a surprise to Pelicans’ fans or even those slightly above casual NBA fans. So, let’s look more at how Hood fits this roster and how the Pelicans could shape the roster in an offseason built around retaining Jrue Holiday and trading for Rodney Hood.
Rodney Hood: That 6’-7” Playmaking Wing the Pelicans Have Been Seeking Since Q-Pon Expired
New Orleans invented jazz, but in reality currently jazz in its more traditional form has been bastardized into dog-and-pony shows for tourists or the background music to buying beignet box mix and “I Got Bourbon Faced on Shit Street” t-shirts. Instead, locals celebrate the hybrids and mutations. We love the Edna Karr marching band playing brass band versions of Cash Money hits of old.
This current roster can be seen as this kind of mutation of the Utah Jazz’s roster. It’s built around talented bigs, but it has some very southern hip hop stank on it — so adding Rodney Hood and his experience playing along the talented bigs in Utah (including a playmaking three point shooting big like Boris Diaw) should provide the syncopated beat this roster needs going forward. If the pairing goes as I expect, it could be the perfect blend of soul, jazz and hip hop that is the El Michels Affair’s, Enter the 37th Chamber — a soulful jazz fusion homage to the Wu-Tang Clan.
In the initial days following the trade, spacing was the biggest concern surrounding the Davis/Cousins’ pairing. However, adding Jordan Crawford soon afterwards and establishing a new comfort level among the players in a redesigned offense has alleviated some concerns. Add Rodney Hood to this mix and Alvin Gentry should really be able to open the floor.
Hood is currently shooting 42.9% from three in catch and shoot situations. For comparison let’s look at some other celebrated shooters in catch-and-shoot — Bradley Beal is at 42.3%, Buddy Hield is at 40.6%, CJ McCollum is at 42.6%, Carmelo Anthony is at 42.8%, Danilo Gallinari is at 40.2%, JJ Redick is at 44.6%, Klay Thompson is at 44.1% and Kevin Durant is 43%.
If you’ve ever watched Hood play or just peeked at his highlights, it’s clear that catch-and-shoot threes are a huge part of his game, and that skill at his clip — which should go up playing off of big men that are major offensive threats and one that already can pass effectively out of the post — is key to what this offense needs surrounding Davis and Cousins. Have a look at Hood’s highlights from last season and you will see a steady stream of beautiful catch-and-shoot conversions.
Hood still being on his rookie contract allows the Pelicans to retain the other above average catch and shoot players on this roster like Dante Cunningham (38.8%), Jordan Crawford (52.3%) — whose current rate is surely unsustainable...but still...wow, Solomon Hill (37.3%), E’Twaun Moore (36.5%) and Splash Mountain himself — DeMarcus Cousins (37.2%). The Pelicans can then construct lineups with the kind of shooting needed to punish the opposition when they double down low if the team can also improve at getting those shooters the ball out of the post quickly (an area Anthony Davis needs to work on this offseason — I mean, wasn’t he a point guard in high school?).
For the season Rodney Hood is shooting a respectable 38.5% from three and is very solid from the corners at 43.9%.
However, since February, Hood has been very potent from deep, converting 45.3% from deep overall. I believe this to be more of a sign of his growth than just a hot streak.
In fact, Hood is an above average shooter from mid-range out, only struggling in the lane and at the rim. I’ve watched him pretty intently this season and I believe this has more to do with the lane clogging bigs he plays with than his actual ability to finish. With Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins on the floor instead, there should be a clearer path to the hoop in isolation, on baseline cuts and when Hood drives off of pick and rolls.
The other thing that Rodney Hood brings — check that highlight package — is the ability to create his own shot. Post trade the Pelicans were sorely lacking in this skill set until the Crawford signing. Hood has a nice array of moves to get clean looks. He has a crossover, a nice step-back, can hit the fall away, has a good spin move, he uses screens well on and off the ball, has a jab-step, has the quickness and high-level athleticism to blow by defenders or run in transition, and at 6’-8”, he is able to shoot over smaller guards as well as operate as a post-up guard on the block.
Another thing I like about Hood that Crawford also brings is decisiveness and explosion. He knows when to attack and he commits hard when he does; he’s also a great leaper with a 36” vertical measurement at the combine.
These are all very important because the Pelicans lack great playmaking from their main guard. Tim Frazier can create at a high level, but his lack of a jumpshot and his lack of defensive capabilities cause other problems for the Pelicans when he gets extended minutes. Hood should pair well with Jrue Holiday as he is already pairing well with George Hill who basically is Jrue Holiday without the elite defensive capabilities — though Hill is no slouch on that end either. Also, inserting Hood into a lineup with Holiday, Cousins, Davis and Hill should ease Holiday’s need to be a great creator.
Looking at Hood’s numbers as a playmaker are a little deceiving. He’s only averaging 3.1 assists per 100 possessions with a 10.1% assist percentage. However, the numbers aren’t always the greatest test of a player’s skills and the eyeball test makes me believe this is more schematic than skill set with Hood. He has shown a nice handle and I’ve seen him make several nice passes.
He isn’t Tyreke Evans or even Lance Stephenson, but he isn’t Ryan Anderson either. If you compare the assist stats of the Jazz to those of the Pelicans you will a great divide across the board. The Jazz, who are currently the 4th best team in the Western Conference, have a three-way tie for assist leaders per 100 possessions: George Hill, Boris Diaw and Shelvin Mack give the Jazz a seemingly measly — in this era of basketball — 6.7 per 100.
Conversely here’s some numbers from Pelicans past and present from this season that help demonstrate how a huge uptick in creation can occur if Hood plays in another offensive philosophy — Jrue Holiday and Tim Frazier are both tied with 10.7 assists per 100 possessions, but we have also seen solid numbers from Tyreke Evans (9.4), Lance Stephenson (8.8), Jordan Crawford (6.1) and DeMarcus Cousins (5.3). Rodney’s lack of playmaking with the Jazz hasn’t hurt them because that isn’t what they ask him to do, but just because they don’t ask him to do it doesn’t mean he can’t.
At Duke, Hood’s per 100 possessions assists jump to 4 per with a 13.2% assist percentage, and that’s with him being the a primary scoring option alongside Jabari Parker averaging 29.9 points per 100 possessions — again, not being asked to facilitate making this more of a projection at the moment. Despite his low assist numbers and an almost identical usage rating to Jrue Holiday — Hood is at 23.0% and Holiday is at 23.6% Hood’s turnover ratio (7.4 compared to Holiday’s 11.9) demonstrates that even though he has the ball in his hands often, he doesn’t hurt you with turnovers. If I was a betting man, I’d reference what I think Hood’s scoring soundclip should be in New Orleans and put five on him being a solid ball handling secondary distributor from the wing.
On the other end, Hood is a starter on the league’s best defense. The Jazz currently give up a ridiculously low 96.4 points per game in the space and pace era. They are 2nd to Golden State in FG%, allowing opponents to shoot 44.2% from the field allowing only 1.18 points per shot while limiting opponents to just under 82 shots per game. Rudy Gobert’s presence has a lot to do with this, but Rodney Hood’s length, athleticism and footwork at the 2 also play a big role.
Looking purely at Hood’s defensive rating he compares very favorably to Jrue Holiday — just 0.1 points over Holiday’s 101.8 rating while besting Holiday on the offensive end by 2.8 points with a 106.7 rating. These numbers are encouraging for the Pelicans to maintain their foothold as a top tier defense if not improve upon their rating by replacing much of Tim Frazier’s minutes with Rodney Hood.
The other thing is Hood’s size, athleticism and skills offers some level of versatility. While he has logged the majority of his NBA minutes at the 2, the Jazz have used him from time-to-time at the 3 and even very sparingly at the 1. He’s perfect for Darren Erman’s switching defensive scheme.
Obviously, with all that I’ve said about Hood, the Jazz would love to keep him. However, they will have to spend heavily to do so. Gordon Hayward will demand a max or near max contract. George Hill will likely cost the Jazz somewhere between $18 and $25 million per year. Joe Ingles could possible demand $18+ million, and as I’ve stated previously, Gobert’s extension kicks in and the Jazz have 3 other $10+ million contracts on the books already. This cost effective roster will get expensive in a hurry, and I’m not sure the Jazz are a team that wants to be a repeat or even one-time luxury tax payer. This, combined with the fact that Hood has had some health concerns, could have the Jazz listening if the Pelicans offer is quite enticing.
I’m not trying to be Mike Ditka here, but the Pelicans would be smart to overpay for Hood if needed. I’d have no objection to the Pelicans sending out the 2018 1st unprotected with the 2018 2nd, the right to swap in the first round of 2019 and the 2020 1st top 10 protected for Hood. With Anthony Davis and Cousins in tow for one more year at least, the Pelicans need to swing for the fences to compete now. If they can build around those two correctly, the value of those 1st round picks will significantly drop, and free agents chasing rings or looking for prove it deals will look fondly in New Orleans’ direction like the Mask in heat.
Also, Hood being on a rookie contract gives the Pelicans added financial flexibility to add other players this offseason. With Hood and Holiday as the key pieces and little effective depth at the 5, I would do my best to also acquire Kyle O’Quinn from the Knicks. In early February, I looked at potentially trades for Tim Frazier and the Knicks make a ton of sense. I like Frazier a lot as evidenced by my season preview, but he has one season left on his team-friendly deal and his playing time will be eaten up by Holiday, Hood, Crawford and Moore.
Tim Frazier could be a beacon of light shining from some sculptor’s vision for the cash strapped Knicks. Here’s what I wrote about the return we should expect for sending Frazier to MSG for Kyle O’Quinn:
Why New Orleans Does It:
This move is all about restocking the bigs for next season. Kyle O’Quinn did little to endear himself to Pelicans’ fans with his recent hard foul on Anthony Davis, but he’s a player I’ve long coveted. He would allow Davis to play the four more often, and he would certainly sure up the Pelicans’ rebounding woes; this season as he is posting a very good 20.1 TRB% with a strong 26 DRB%.
Additionally, O’Quinn finishes well around the rim, but can also hit the mid-range jumper — he’s currently shooting 46% from outside of 16’. He’s gritty and a decent defender, posting a 3.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus on a pretty bad Knicks’ team. O’Quinn is also a nice playmaker out of the post. His assist percentages over the last couple of years are pretty similar to noted playmaking big man Andrew Bogut — though I’m sure Bogut comparisons won’t sell you on a player following that Dell/Gentry snake oil charade with Asik.
O’Quinn is the service industry worker’s DeMarcus Cousins and should play well next to either of our current big men while also serving as some injury insurance and a body to replace Dante Cunningham should he leave in free agency — even if their skill sets aren’t very similar. His shooting and passing abilities are good fits for what the Pelicans want from the 5-spot. Also, his contract is very team friendly.
With Frazier moved, it would open up more opportunity for Jordan Crawford to play the one as a reserve though he’s definitely a shoot first, second and third guard, but Frazier’s absence should also give some run to, if retained, Quinn Cook. Patty Mills is the apple of many Pelicans’ fan and blogger’s eye this summer, and the diminutive point guard is surely an intriguing option. However, why couldn’t Quinn Cook be the next Patty Mills? Could he be at least a player that reminds you of Mills for short stretches while on a minimum contract?
Both players are small shoot-first guards. Mills has shown he can hit the three at a very good rate: 41.7% this season. Cook has also converted a solid 37.7% in the D-League this season. As much as D-League success doesn’t translate into NBA success, on-Spurs success doesn’t always translate to post or pre-Spurs success — see Marco Belinelli.
If I’m forced to choose between Hood and Mills, I’m going Hood every time, and with Hood in the squadron, Mills won’t get big minutes. However, what he would bring to the Pels would be a boon — outside shooting, penetrating and playmaking. I’d like to see if giving Quinn Cook a piece of Tim Frazier’s minutes can give us what Patty Mills would seemingly project to. As soon as the Pelicans are eliminated from the playoff race, Cook should get an extended look. He did show some flashes against NBA competition in the preseason — especially against Houston in China where he put up 20 points and 8 assists.
Cook also showed out in the D-League All-Star game here in New Orleans walking away with the MVP trophy. Oleh and I had a very close-up and personal look at what was probably the most energetic and competitive event of the entire All-Star weekend.
Cook didn’t look to score much in the first half of the game with a clear focus to set up teammates. However, Oleh and I were pleasantly surprised by his offensive aggression and scoring ability when he decided to take over in the second half. Cook could be a very real Tim Frazier replacement, keeping Dell Demps’ dumpster diving merit badge as the centerpiece of his scout sash.
With the Pelicans operating over the cap and committing to Holiday as their point guard, they could use the Mid-Level-Exception to further bolster the small forward position by bringing in an offensive threat to counter the defense first options of Solomon Hill and Dante Cunningham. Two guys I would consider for that role are CJ Miles and Bojan Bogdanovic. However, I would also try to pry Jonathan Simmons from the Spurs, but with his two-way playing ability — especially his defensive versatility — he may be a hard piece to pry away from the Spurs or another team that can go over the MLE to pry him from Kawhi’s giant paws. Here’s what the 2017-18 Pelicans roster would look like under this plan:
PG: Jrue Holiday/Jordan Crawford/Quinn Cook
SG: Rodney Hood/E’Twaun Moore/Quincy Pondexter
SF: Solomon Hill/CJ Miles or Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Anthony Davis/Dante Cunningham/Cheick Diallo
C: DeMarcus Cousins/Kyle O’Quinn/Alexis Ajinca/Omer Asik (if he is not stretched)
Giving up as many picks as I propose to acquire a non-All-Star may seem like a gamble, but when I look around the league, I find it hard to find a player that fits so perfectly with what the Pelicans want to do and most desperately need that could realistically be acquired with what New Orleans has to offer. Hood could unlock a chain of moves that firmly plants the Pelicans in a long-term position of legitimacy in the Western Conference.
Bonus Material: Random Thoughts
• There’s been a lot of talk about player rest and shortening the season, and I haven’t really agreed with any solution that I’ve heard. The thing is that it’s true these players are going through a real grind. However, it is the reason they are being paid so well to do so. Selfishly, I don’t want to see a reduction in games because I love watching basketball. Realistically, cutting games will not provide the revenue needed to support the salaries players are demanding. My idea on adjusting the schedule actually adds regular season games, but also solves some other competitive issues while also creating some additional revenue that could further compensate the players. The NBA could improve the playoff seeding and overall competitive balance by eliminating Conferences and Divisions all together. Each team could play every other team three times a year — with the 2 to 1 home game situation rotating every season in each match up. This adjustment bumps the schedule from 82 games to 87, which isn’t a terribly dramatic increase. It also allows teams to be more politically correct by resting stars either at home or on one of the two away games against their opponents — allowing each fan base at least one game to see a rival star play their home team. The preseason could also be shortened to help with the grind of the 5 added contests. In determining post season rankings, eliminating conferences and an even number of games against all opponents helps even out the level of competition allowing the actual 16 best teams to make it to the post season.
• I’m very excited about the Pelicans owning their own D-League team. Not only does this allow the Pels to develop their young players and coaches to fit their system, but it also gives them an opportunity to make up for their current terrible design issues. I have a degree in visual communications, I’ve served as the art director for New Orleans’ own Antigravity Magazine and I’ve also worked in design agencies in Asia, which means it is nearly impossible for me to buy any Pelicans’ merchandise. I’m a super fan, but their gear is absolute trash as are their uniforms — outside of the red one, which could still be improved. I really hope they roll with The Squadron as the team name and do something unique with the uni’s — maybe a cool take on a pin-stripe that morphs into a representation of the the strips of flesh Pelicans will tear from their own bodies to feed their young.
• I’ve been writing for the Bird Writes since the Pelicans inaugural season and I feel like since my first piece, I’ve been begging for dimmed lights and more local hip hop — especially, “Nolia Clap” — I’m glad to see others picking up the torch, too. I mean how can you play that terrible, “clap, clap, clap your hands” bite when you can just rock this: