NBA-TV analyst Sekou Smith dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Tuesday to discuss numerous NBA topics, including the Cavaliers’ late-season slide. Cleveland (51-30) started the season 41-17 but is 10-13 since March 1.
It’s easy to say that the Cavs will flip the switch once the playoffs begin, but Brandon Tierney believes Cleveland’s lack of speed could be an issue against the NBA’s elite.
“I don’t think it’s an issue against Eastern Conference teams,” Smith said on Tiki and Tierney. “I think where it could reach out and bite them a little bit is if they were to make it back to the Finals. All the teams they would face in the West would have an advantage in that department.”
Cleveland, Smith noted, has built its roster with a singular goal in mind: beating the Warriors.
“They’ve kind of ignored the fact that that turns you into something that you weren’t when you first saw the Warriors in the Finals a couple years ago,” Smith observed. “You’re not the defensive-minded, rugged team you were. You’re now a three-point shooting team with a lot of guys who are not individually great defenders, or even good defenders. So you put yourself in a really awkward position targeting the Warriors when you have to actually get through an entire field before you get to Golden State.”
There are many theories as to why the Cavs have struggled in recent weeks, but resting star players isn’t the primary culprit. Neither is Tyronn Lue.
“The Cavs’ issues aren’t about in-game adjustments and whether or not the coach is calling timeouts at the right time or not,” Smith said. “Those were issues they had under David Blatt, who was coming fresh to the NBA from his overseas experience. Their biggest issue right now is about energy level and whether or not playing to the last game of the season in consecutive years has sapped the juice out of some of these guys – and I would tell you that it has. We always overlook the fact that playing that deep into a season in consecutive seasons . . . you’re talking about tacking on another season’s worth of work on your body when you’re playing that many playoff games. So I think that’s been their bigger issue more than anything tactical.”
Cleveland could also be without home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Cavs trail Boston (52-29) by one game with one game to go.
Smith believes that Brad Stevens will likely be NBA Coach of the Year, with Mike D’Antoni and David Fizdale also in the mix.
“If Brad Stevens leads Boston to the No. 1 seed in the East, I have a really difficult time seeing how you overlook that,” Smith said. “Mike D’Antoni has done a fantastic job in Houston putting them in position for that third seed in the West, a place nobody predicted they would be. But really, I don’t know how you overlook the job Brad Stevens has done without a clear-cut superstar until we saw Isaiah Thomas emerge this year as that. For them to get the No. 1 seed in the East, to me, would mean we need to put (Stevens’) name on that trophy and carve it in there now and go ahead and hand him the hardware.”
As for Rookie of the Year, Smith gives second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon the nod. The 24-year-old has averaged 10.2 points, 4.2 assist and 2.8 rebounds in 74 games for the Bucks (42-39), who are currently the 6-seed in the East.
“If Joel Embiid played 60 games at the level he played 30, he’s a landslide winner for Rookie of the Year,” Smith said of the oft-injured 76er. “There’s not even a competition. But you have to base it on the amount of work guys put in during that rookie season, and Brogdon has really been good. He’s really surprised some people and been a better player as a rookie than most people projected.”
Smith also weighed in on Lonzo Ball, saying he has no concerns about the 19-year-old’s jump-shot, which isn’t exactly textbook form-wise.
“Listen, I’ve watched Shawn Marion and Josh Childress, who had some of the funkiest-looking jump-shots I’ve ever seen, and they were both more than effective in their time in the league, getting the business done and being able to get shots up,” Smith said. “I think it’s different for Lonzo Ball only because he’s going to be playing the point guard position, so he’s going to be on the ball at all times. But he’s been as good as he’s been coming up through the ranks . . . I’m not concerned about any parts of his game – him getting a shot off, him getting bigger and stronger, adjusting to the speed and the dynamic guys he’s going to face on a nightly basis in the league. My only concern would be how big of an influence is LaVar Ball going to be on what he does in his professional career and whether or not some of the antics and the hype surrounding his dad is going to take away from his opportunity to reach his potential and be the best player he can be. If he can minimize the distractions, I think he’s got a chance to be a fantastic (player).”