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.
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 a young player. I'm gonna continue to learn how to be an elite scorer in this league.
AS: As far as stretching the floor for this offense, how much of that is about threes? Is that something you stress specifically?
Hood: I put a lot of emphasis on it. The main thing is getting attempts. I can get hot—I feel like I'm a really good shooter. Sometimes I get three attempts, and I can go 2 for 3. [But] if I get 10 attempts, I feel like I can hit 4 or 5. So that's the biggest thing. I'm also just working harder before I get the ball, and that's going to help my shot as we go along in the season.
AS: A lot of basketball people watch the Jazz and say they don't have anyone to take the shot at the end of games. How do you respond to that?
Hood: We've done that. We've made big shots. Gordon's hit game-winners. I've hit big shots, D-Fav. We've done that. We were a young team last year, [so] we didn't do it as much. But we've got guys who can step up, takeover games, hit those shots. Gordon, George Hill, Alec Burks is another one when he gets back. We got a lot of guys who can do that.
AS: So you don't need that elite superstar. The Russ, the Harden...
Hood: Nah, we've got what we need right here in Utah. Gordon and Fav, and then when those guys get double-teamed, I'm a guy that can step up and make those plays. That's no disrespect to those other players, but I love the guys we got here.
AS: One of the things that's tough for a young team still developing: the West has been loaded the past few years. Then the best team goes out and gets better this summer. What was your reaction when you found out the Warriors signed Kevin Durant?
Hood: It was kind of a competitive thing. You know? They were already great, it wasn't like they were gonna drop off anyways. They added KD, great player. They're well coached, got a great organization. It's just another challenge we gotta face. I think we got a bunch of guys ready to step up to that challenge. We're just gonna go out and compete and see what happens.
AS: On TV, during games, Quin Snyder can look extremely intense. Does that carry over day-to-day?
Hood: Oh yeah, definitely. [laughs] He's never had an off-day, when it comes to intensity. But he's not a rah-rah guy that's gonna yell at you all the time. He's one of the brightest minds I've ever been around. We all trust him and his staff. He's been great.
AS: Coming into the draft, it looked like you'd end up with a playoff team. The Bulls, the Grizzlies, maybe the Thunder. Instead you wound up in Utah. How long did it take before you began to get excited about the opportunity there?
Hood: At first I was a little mad, because I didn't know why I dropped. But once you get a little older, you just see... It's a match made in heaven. Being a young player coming into the league, all you really want is an opportunity. Dennis Lindsey and Coach Snyder gave me an opportunity to really show what I can do, and progress into the player I am now, and the player I'll be in the future. I'm forever grateful.
AS: Had you ever been to Utah before the draft?
Hood: Nope. My first time was the day after the draft. You hear about the mountains, how good the people are. That pretty much met my standards. The beautiful scenery, and how great the people are out here. It's been fun so far.
AS: People always talk about the Jazz culture. What does that mean? In what ways is that a real thing?
Hood: We're just a close-knit group. We're always joking. Laughing, having fun. But I think the thing that's unique about us, we'll hold each other accountable. When we're in shootarounds, or we're in practice, we always lock in and try to make each other better. So I think that's kinda different. It's a unique atmosphere in Utah, that I don't think a lot of other teams have around the league.
AS: It kinda seems like you guys are all coming into your own at the same time. Is there a deeper bond because of that?
Hood: There definitely is, man. Getting here two or three years ago, coming in with Coach Snyder, him being a first-time head coach. Me and Gordon, bonding in a lot of close games. Losing some, winning some. Me and Derrick Favors talk all the time—it's just part of a natural growth. You're with some guys, and we're all starting to become the players we're supposed to be at the same time. It's going to be a special thing to watch. Especially if we get healthy, and as we get to rolling, it'll be a special thing to watch.
AS: When you're all joking, who's the ringleader?
Hood: Definitely Rudy. Rudy's the jokester on the team. Him and Joe Ingles, those two guys are the jokesters.
AS: Beyond the typical dinners on the road, what are some the things that you guys get into when you're off the court?
Hood: Yeah, we'll go out to eat, we'll go to a lot of appearances together. And then like Dante (Exum) and Rudy, they'll play video games together. I'll go over to Derrick Favors's house and we'll play spades. We're always hanging with each other off the court, even though we see each other a lot. We're traveling so much, there's not really time for nightlife. But if we see like a big college basketball game on, we'll go over to each other's house and watch. Play cards, play dominos. It's great.
AS: Have you tried any of Boris Diaw's coffee yet?
Hood: [Laughs] Nah, I haven't. But I see him drinking it all the time. He's got his own little spot for his coffee at the practice facility. It's interesting to watch him. That's his thing, every single day. He always gets his coffee.
AS: So when you're talking to friends from elsewhere, what are you selling them on when they ask about Utah?
Hood: I just tell them it's a cool place to come. A lot of the fun things that people do here, basketball players can't really do. Like skiing, snowboarding, those type of things. But it's a cool place. It's different than any place in the country you'll ever go. The mountains, the valley, everything.
AS: Yeah, I was going to ask: Are NBA players even allowed to ski? Have you ever tried it?
Hood: Nah, nah. I think it's a little dangerous, so I stay away from it. But I love to go outdoors. Whether it's swimming, fishing, four-wheeler riding. Those are the pivotal times. You get to be yourself. I'll do a lot of that during the summertime.
AS: I saw you got married this summer. What was your favorite part of the wedding process, and what was your least favorite part?
Hood: My favorite part was probably just the ceremony itself. Being around so many family and friends. Just enjoying me and Richa's love. That was the most exciting part. The most irritating part... was everything leading up to it. You know, she was worried about everything. She wanted everything to be perfect, and I was out playing USA ball in Las Vegas. It was just a wreck. But it all turned out great in the end.
AS: Did you have teammates at the wedding? Who was the most entertaining on the dance floor?
Hood: I had a lot of Duke teammates at the wedding. It was at an awkward time, so some [Jazz] guys were playing Olympic ball, some guys were overseas, some guys were having babies. But I had a lot of my old Duke teammates come. And most entertaining... gotta be Amile Jefferson. He was the life of the party.
AS: You mentioned babies. You recently became a father, right? What are your impressions the first year?
Hood: It's been fun! Watching him grow, every single day. He's getting taller, he's starting to walk, he's starting to talk. It's just been fascinating to watch him grow.
AS: I know Joe Ingles and Gordon Hayward have babies, too. Do you guys ever compare notes?
Hood: Yeahhhh, man. Well none of us change diapers, I think that's the thing we all have in common. But it's been fun. Joe, Gordon, Derrick Favors—a lot of us have had babies in the past couple years. So our babies play together. They hang out together. It's fun to watch them all grow up. Hopefully we see their growth for years to come.