Leading up to the start of the 2014 NBA season, Swarm and Sting will be pitting the Hornets head to head with every team in the Association every Tuesday and Thursday. In this edition, we match the Hornets up with the Utah Jazz.
2013-14 Series: Utah swept Charlotte, 2-0.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
Trey Burke will be entering his sophomore season after an impressive rookie campaign. Burke is an outside threat, leading the Jazz in 3-point attempts, while maintaing a 33% field goal percentage from beyond the arc. Burke is also excellent at protecting the ball, finishing the 2014 season with a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. He will be facing Kemba Walker, who can also score at a high clip while distributing to his teammates. What sets these two point guards apart is Kemba’s ability to steal and rebound. Walker doubled Burke up in steals per game in 2014, and out-rebounded Burke throughout the year. This is about as tight of a match-up as you can get at the one for the Hornets, offensively, however.
ADVANTAGE: Kemba Walker
This is a match-up between Charlotte’s top two free agent targets in 2014. The Hornets offered Hayward a monster offer sheet of 4 years, $63 million, that the Jazz ultimately matched. In response, the Hornets picked up Lance Stephenson for under half of Hayward’s price. Statistically, the two players are more even than their contracts would suggest; Stephenson is a triple double machine, while Gordon Hayward’s size makes him a valuable shooting guard. Ultimately, Hayward’s ability to consistently knock down three point shots is what separates him from many other shooting guards in the NBA, including Lance Stephenson.
ADVANTAGE: Gordon Hayward
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (7.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0.8 APG) vs. Rodney Hood (Rookie)
Rodney Hood starting at small forward is just an assumption given that Hayward plays shooting guard. If the Jazz do allow Hood to start immediately, it will be difficult to predict how he plays. At Duke, Hood was an excellent scorer guilty of occasional defensive lapses. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist almost completely reverses that role, instead playing as a standout defender who can at times display an offensive outburst. Neither of these players will be an offensive anchor, but MKG’s defensive ability to guard Utah’s best player, and not just Hood, will be the difference maker at the 3.
ADVANTAGE: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Statistically, this is a massive mismatch in favor of Derrick Favors. The underlying factor is that Favors played an entire quarter more per game than Zeller, so his stats are inflated in comparison to Zeller’s. Still, Favors is a solid rebounder who can protect the rim and produce solid scoring numbers, whereas Zeller has plenty to prove going into his sophomore season.
ADVANTAGE: Derrick Favors
The biggest mismatch between the Hornets and Jazz comes at center, where Al Jefferson should make relatively easy work of Enes Kanter. Al Jefferson is simply an all-NBA center being pitted against a serviceable big man. Jefferson should be able to score at will in the post and really body Kanter, although he may have less space to work with due to Gordon Hayward’s size at shooting guard.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (Utah): Dante Exum, Alec Burks, John Lucas III, Steve Novak, Trevor Booker, Malcom Thomas.
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. With so many question marks regarding Charlotte’s starting rotation, it’s possible that one of Charlotte’s reserves ends up moving to the match-up board, with a starter moving down. That kind of depth just doesn’t exist for Utah. The Jazz can always start Burke and Exum, move Hayward down to small forward, and add Hood to the bench, and it still would be difficult to compete with Charlotte’s depth. The Hornets have two players who started just two years ago (Biyambo and Henderson), two potential starting power forwards (Williams and Vonleh), and improved second unit guards (Hairston and Roberts). There are few benches in the NBA who can match Charlotte’s. The Utah Jazz do not possess one of those benches.
Rookies (Utah): Dante Exum, Rodney Hood
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Utah. This is really a toss-up between the two teams, as the mystique surrounding Dante Exum makes it difficult to predict how his game will translate in the NBA. Noah Vonleh should see solid minutes as a backup in a crowded power forward position for the Hornets, and PJ Hairston should provide great relief for Lance Stephenson and Gerald Henderson in an equally populated shooting guard pool. Dante Exum, on the other hand, could either become a breakout star, or risk garnering the reputation of a bust. Rodney Hood was excellent in his one season at Duke, and should provide either quality minutes as starting small forward, or solid relief should the Jazz go smaller.
FINAL VERDICT: Despite the Jazz sweeping the Hornets in 2014, Charlotte fans should be optimistic about this series in the upcoming season. It is rather interesting how the Hornets and Jazz have developed a mini-interconference rivalry over free agency in the past two years. The Hornets signed Al Jefferson from Utah in a lucrative deal in 2013, and followed that up by offering Gordon Hayward a max offer sheet in 2014, forcing Utah to match. In addition to this, the Hornets signed Marvin Williams this offseason, which means there should be quite a bit of familiarity between Charlotte and Utah. Charlotte improved this offseason, while Utah looks to have maintained the status quo. That status quo, however, is the same one that swept the Hornets in 2014.
PREDICTION: Hornets and Jazz split season series, 1-1.
Stats are taken from ESPN.com
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