I think we’re seeing a more assertive player. (He’s) a more confident player as he’s gone through some tough games. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder, on Rodney Hood
SALT LAKE CITY — If the Minnesota Timberwolves base their scouting report solely on the last time they played the Utah Jazz, they might sag off of Rodney Hood and let him fire away at will.
A month ago in Minnesota, Hood had one of his roughest outings as a pro. He took 13 shots, only made one. That included a 1-for-9 showing from outside.
Hood has hardly been the same player since that 94-80 loss to the T-Wolves, which is good news for Utah as it hosts Minnesota tonight.
The difference between Hood, who was struggling in December, and Hood, who has had a terrific month of January?
A confidence-boosting pep talk by Gordon Hayward.
“I think,” Hayward said after Hood scored 24 points in a win over Charlotte on Wednesday, “his confidence is a lot better.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who’d told reporters about Hayward’s talk to Hood earlier this month while crediting the team captain for his leadership, has also noticed a big difference.
“It’s great,” Snyder said. “I’m going to have Gordon talk to me.”
The Jazz coach was obviously joking, but the results have been quite impressive.
Hood is averaging 18 points since the Dec. 30 game in the Twin Cities after having averaged about 12 the previous two months.
The 6-foot-8 shooting guard has hit double figures in 13 of 14 games, scored 20-plus in back-to-back outings, put up 29 and 32 in a couple of other contests, and even managed to get a compliment about his defense from his coach.
“I think recently he has been better defensively,” Snyder said. “There is a tendency for all players to judge their play on their shots going in. I think he started to detach from that.”
Snyder and Hayward have helped convince the second-year player from Duke that he needs to remain even-keeled, not getting too bummed out about the rough shooting nights but also not getting too full of himself when the rim seems like an extra wide hula-hoop.
“I tell him this too shall pass when he has a bad game and when he has a great shooting night,” Snyder said. “It’s not always going to be like that. The key is for him to be consistent and to be tough mentally no matter what happens — do the same thing and play the same game.”
The results have been a Hood who has quickly surpassed expectations of a guy who somehow slipped to the Jazz at the No. 23 spot in the first round of the 2014 draft.
“I think we’re seeing a more assertive player,” Snyder said. “(He’s) a more confident player as he’s gone through some tough games.”
Being selected to the Rising Stars Challenge is a bit of a validation for Hood, whose first season was blemished by a series of foot injuries.
“It means a lot,” he said, recalling how he watched the rookie-sophomore game a year ago while he rehabbed in Salt Lake City during the All-Star break. “I saw my peers out there playing. It motivated me a lot to play in that game. A lot of great players have played in it, so it means a lot to be in it.”
Hood recently showed that he learned from his Hayward pep talk. In Utah’s double-overtime game at Charlotte, the 23-year-old missed 13 of 17 field-goal attempts. The next outing, he shot even more, going 11-for-21 for 29 points in OT loss to the Knicks. He’s hit 31 of 63 shots, including 16-30 from 3-point range in the four games since that Hornets setback.
“I feel like I’m shooting better, especially compared to the first half of the season,” he said. “I’m shooting it more consistent. I’ve just been working on it.”
That includes early sessions with assistant coaches on game days.
It’s all helped boost this kid’s soaring confidence, which directly relates to how his shot goes.
“I feel like I’m a hot guy right now,” he said. “I’m shooting the ball well right now.”
Snyder is thoroughly enjoying how Hayward and Hood are building a bond on the wing.
“It shows the relationship those two have as far as how they’re complementing one another,” he said.
Snyder also credited Hayward for knowing how to effectively handle Hood with understanding and empathy. The former Butler star knows something about being in slumps and getting out of them.
“Every player’s been through those moments,” Snyder said. “Rodney’s a kind of guy that could take that harder than some, and I think that’s where Gordon’s comments to him were really good. It kind of diffused that for him and (said), ‘Hey, we’ve got confidence in you. Keep shooting.’”
Hood, who's averaging 14 points on the season, plans on it.
"It feels good," he said. "Just got to keep going."
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