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
Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago