"I'd rather make the playoffs," he said. "I think especially for Utah a young team it's the value of experience. Knowing how hard you have to play when the playoffs start carries over into next season."
He was not among those who were surprised that the Jazz made it into the playoffs.
"No, I just thought that they have good, young talent," Smith said, "They have low-post scoring, and it started to come together about 20 to 25 games in, I thought."
Smith will be back in the TNT studio on Wednesday (5 p.m., MDT) when the Jazz take on the Spurs in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. The game also will be carried on ROOT Sports in Utah.
He came away from Game 1 impressed with San Antonio, that is, after the top-seeded Spurs beat Utah 106-91.
"The Spurs are good," he said with a laugh. "I mean, you're playing a team that, last year, was a little banged up as the No. 1 seed. This year, they're much more healthy with a mindset of not being bumped off by a young, up-and-coming team."
(A year ago, San Antonio was the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and lost its first-round series to eighth-seeded Memphis.)
"I think the expectations are different for San Antonio this year," Smith said. "Tim Duncan looks great. So I think this is going to be a very difficult series for the Jazz, but I still think it's going to be beneficial."
Because there's nothing like real-life experience.
"If you just read a book about it, is it good for you?" Smith asked. "A guy like Al Jefferson, who's never been, he can't read and understand what that might mean."
(Jefferson does have very limited playoff experience. He played in seven postseason games with the Celtics in 2005, averaging 19.4 minutes and 6.1 points per game.)
"You learn the intensity of the playoffs," Smith said. "Because when teams have time to work on you for a week, you also learn what your weaknesses are."
Something that may have worked during the regular season may not work when an opponent has a week or more to concentrate on how to stop it.
"Your weaknesses show in the playoffs," Smith said. "And it gives those young players an opportunity to work on those things."
Smith is hardly alone in figuring that the best Utah can hope for in their series against San Antonio is to get a few playoff games under their belt. Nobody is picking the Jazz to advance to the second round.
But Smith thinks the Jazz can take the series beyond four games.
"Yeah, they can win a game," he said. "And that will be great for them to see what it takes. It's different in the playoffs."
Which is why Smith figures the Jazz are better off in the postseason, even if they make a quick exit.
"They don't need draft picks. They need experience," he said. "With some of the teams, it might be different. But with the Jazz, they need that experience."
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune.