Kenny "The Jet" Smith never made an All-Star team across his 10-year NBA career. Nor earned an All-NBA selection.
But he did display a knack for stepping up when the spotlight shone the brightest. His two rings with the Houston Rockets evidence that. In the two postseasons that yielded those championships, Smith started all 45 games for Houston and averaged 30 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while canning 44.4% of his attempts from 3.
The 2019-20 NBA playoffs will be unlike any the league has seen before. Over the next three days, 22 teams will make their way to Orlando, Fla. to tie a bow on an eight-game conclusion to the regular season and a 16-team playoff in a bubble environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Throw home court advantage out the window. All games will take place on a neutral court, and without fans.
Who could such an environment benefit the most? Smith broke down his thoughts on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, hosted by Jason Goff:
“I don’t know if it’ll affect the (quality of the) product,” Smith said of the unprecedented bubble atmosphere. “Like, they’re the best 350 players in the world. But there are levels inside of the 350. Players who are marginal inside of the best 350 in the world are going to play better. Because guys don’t play as well on the road as some play at home. There is no home. There is no road. Every game’s a home game, every game feels like a practice setting.
“The superstars have taken over a lot on road games. There is that. So now, I think you’re going to be like, ‘Man, I did not know such and such was so good,’ because he’s going to have a comfort level that he’s never had before. It’s going to feel like every game feels like an intense practice — more than an NBA game, but a super intense practice, which they’re accustomed to and they’re comfortable in that environment.”
Of course, there will be other factors in play, as well. Though the NBA baked a three-week ramp-up period and scrimmage schedule into its restart plan to reacclimate players, the league’s four-month hiatus will have impacted each player differently depending on the resources at their disposal from their respective homes. With social distancing a priority, and gyms and practice facilities shuttered, think of the training differences between players living in big-city high-rises compared to sprawling suburban residences, plus the salary gap — and thus, the resource gap — that exists between older and younger players. Also looming will be the still-present dangers of COVID-19, which trump any purely basketball-related consideration.
Still, Smith’s theory is an interesting one. Long has the hypothesis of role players performing better at home than on the road in the postseason persisted. Perhaps the Orlando bubble will mark a definitive test of that.
Bulls Talk Podcast
Two-time NBA champion and TNT analyst Kenny Smith is launching Jet Academy, a virtual basketball camp staffed by the highest-level hoopers in the world to help boys and girls train their game while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was sitting at home and social distancing and quarantine, and my kids typically go to basketball camps,” Smith told Jason Goff on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “They can’t go to camps anymore, I can’t do my basketball camp in North Carolina, I had 700 kids. And I just noticed it was a need in the world that was going on, and I said I’m going to create — and I created — the first virtual basketball camp for kids and adults and anybody who plays the game, virtually. And you can do it from anywhere, any time, on any device, with anyone.”
As for the instructors? Kemba Walker, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Victor Oladipo, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Trae Young will all lead or co-lead training sessions. Those seven players account for 35 All-Star appearances and two MVP awards.
Smith was clear that his intention isn’t to replace traditional trainers, but he believes those that have achieved greatness at the highest level will have special perspective to offer.
“I was talking to Kemba, I was like, ‘OK, Kemba, so this is what we need to do in the camp’ and he’s like, ‘OK, what are the drills you want to do?’” Smith said on the podcast. “I said, ‘No, no, no. Trae, Kemba, I want you to do the drills that you do to get ready. I want to see how you got your jumper like that. That’s what I would want to see. ‘Kemba, show me the pullback.’ He said, ‘Alright, I’ll show you the pullback.’ I said, ‘No, but then you gotta tell us why you use it and when you use it.’ That’s what a trainer at times can’t give you.”
The camp tips off July 20 and will feature live, daily, two-hour video sessions with instructors that campers can follow along with remotely. Campers will also be able to text questions to instructors, upload video of them training for response within 48 hours, and view sessions on-demand. Smith stressed the importance of that interaction towards developing one’s game.
Listen to the rest of Smith and Goff’s conversation, which touches on the litany of considerations facing the NBA as it embarks on its bubble experiment in Orlando, here or via the embedded player above.
Bulls Talk Podcast