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When the Cleveland Cavaliers are finally whole, the vast majority of the attention will be on (of course) LeBron James and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Love.
However, in terms of importance, perhaps no other player other than James and Love will be as vital to the success of the Cavaliers than Rodney Hood.
Having left the loss against the Clippers after one quarter with a lower back strain Friday night and not playing against the Lakers on Sunday night, Hood remains day-to-day as the Cavaliers (38-28) play at Phoenix tonight.
That’s the short-term view, though. When it comes to the big picture, the eventual fate of the Cavaliers’ season could very well hinge on how Hood performs.
While the world knows what James will bring to the table night in, night out, and despite the broken (non-shooting hand), it is expected Love should be able to get back to his All-Star form by the time the playoffs tip off.
Which brings us to the wildcard — Hood.
The 6-foot-8, 25-year-old left-hander has yet to show the Cavaliers what he had established in Utah, where he shot 38.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line, making an average of 2.6 per game.
For the season, Hood has averaged 2.3 makes from long distance, while shooting 38.1 percent from 3.
However, Hood’s 11-game body of work as a Cavalier pales in comparison. He’s shooting just 32.5 percent from beyond the arc, making just more than one (1.2) per game.
It’s not as if the opportunities haven’t been there, either. Hood’s 9.7 field-goal attempts per game rank second, behind only James, on the Cavaliers.
“We definitely have to get him more touches, also at times when he has the ball he has to be aggressive,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of Hood. “I think right now, he’s in between, not sure.
“But we need him to be aggressive and score the basketball.”
Problem is, he’s shooting just 41.1 percent from the field, third-worst among Cleveland’s rotation players, ahead of only George Hill and J.R. Smith.
Smith’s season-long struggles (8.3 points per game, 36.2-percent shooting from 3) only serve to magnify how important Hood’s contributions are to the Cavaliers.
The NBA qualifies shot attempts in different categories, depending on how close a defender is when the shot goes up. Hood is shooting 45 percent on shots that are classified as “tight” (3 to 4 feet) and “open” (4 to 6 feet).
Playing with perhaps the game’s best and most-willing passer in James, Hood has received a plethora of shot attempts that are classified by the league as “wide open,” meaning there is no defensive player within six feet.
It’s those shots were Hood’s struggles are really magnified. He’s making on 23.1 percent of those attempts, terrible for any player, but abysmal for a well-established shooter such as Hood.
He knows he must take the initiative, once he’s healthy enough to return to the floor for the Cavaliers.
“I can’t just wait for play calls,” Hood said. “I’ve just got to go out there, let my presence take over and be aggressive. Whenever I touch the ball, I’ve got to make plays for myself or others.”