Rodney Hood was in line for a big contract. Instead, he’s going to have to prove himself once again.
Hood accepted the one-year, $3.4 million qualifying offer to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania. The Cavaliers acquired the forward before last season’s trade deadline in an effort to retool the team around LeBron James while simultaneously getting foundational pieces for a rebuild should James bolt in free agency.
At 25, Hood fit both categories. He was a natural scorer in college, averaging 13.3 points across two seasons while shooting 49.9 percent from the floor and 39.6 percent from deep. Hood thrived as a second option to Jabari Parker, scoring 16.1 points per game while leading Duke to a 26-9 record. He was surprisingly available late in the first round where the Utah Jazz happily scooped him up.
Hood developed into a starting forward by his second season, but he wasn’t given the same leeway offensively that he had at Duke. Utah’s offense ran through Gordon Hayward on the wing and Derrick Favors in the post, leaving Hood to hang out around the perimeter and heave three-pointers. 46 percent of Hood’s 2,564 shots in Utah came from behind the three-point line, a slight jump from his shot selection in college.
After he was traded to Cleveland, Hood was able to maintain his shooting, but his inability to lift the Cavs defensively led to him falling out of the rotation by playoff time. Hood’s defensive numbers look spectacular from his time in Utah, but that appeared to be more about the players he was surrounded by rather than his individual effectiveness. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Although he provided a spark in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Hood’s value entering free agency was low.
The Cavs were unable to offer Hood a long-term deal at the value he was seeking due to the big contracts still on their books. Cleveland is no longer in the luxury tax bracket, but is still over the salary cap for 2018-19. Luckily for Hood, he will be given plenty of opportunities to boost his stock before he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2019.
After James’ departure, the Cavs will have a new look offensively. Even with rookie point guard Collin Sexton’s ability to drive and kick, Cleveland will likely play more through Kevin Love in the post. Hood is familiar with this setup from his Utah days and could be better with Love.
Although the sample size is limited, Hood’s numbers with Love and James point to an opportunity to get back to his level of play in Utah. Hood saw his net rating go up from 1.9 to 5.4 when James was not on the court. With Love, Hood saw his net rating drop from 9.2 to 0.2 when the big man hit the bench. Hood’s shooting percentages took big hits without James and Love, but he shot slightly better with Love on the court than with James.
Hood will also have more responsibility offensively. With LeBron on the team, he was rightfully cast as another floor-spacing forward. Hood should be able to showcase his all-around offensive ability this season similar to his campaign at Duke. He’ll see more action on cuts to the hoop with Love in the post while also getting a healthy dose of perimeter shots on Sexton’s kick-out passes. Hood should see his numbers go up as the clear-cut second option for the Cavs offensively in a role he’ll likely be more comfortable in. Hood will also have opportunities to develop his skillset as a creator.
Defensively, Hood will have to show versatility. At 6-8, he will be tasked with covering small-ball forwards and wing players. Will his slender frame hold up against bigger players? The rest of the Cavs were not great defensively, so Hood won’t be able to rely on his teammates for support the way he did in Utah. Whether Hood can adequately handle a variety of assignments defensively will go a long way toward securing a lucrative contract in the offseason. Hood has two things in his favor defensively: he doesn’t foul much, and he can create steals leading to easy scoring plays.
If Hood can regain his old form, he will have plenty of options in the summer. Young wing players are scarce, especially those who can impact both ends of the floor. If Hood is a candidate for Most Improved Player in 2018-19, he’ll be in line for a big raise in the summer.