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 Orlando Magic.
2013-14 Series: Charlotte and Orlando split the series, 2-2.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
This match-up features two of the most exciting young point guards in the NBA in Walker and Oladipo. Oladipo had a strong rookie campaign, living up to his billing as the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Oladipo should be even better with a year of NBA experience under his belt, with which comes wisdom and confidence. His opponent, however, is coming off a sensational year for Charlotte. While Oladipo will further improve his game this year, the experience of Kemba, along with the talent surrounding him, will give Walker the edge.
ADVANTAGE: Kemba Walker
While this match-up looks lopsided from a statistical standpoint, it is important to note that Evan Fournier played under 20 minutes per game for the Denver Nuggets last year. His numbers should increase with the minutes that come from a starting role. It is worth noting that Fournier shot a rather efficient 43.5% from the field, identical to that of Gerald Henderson last year. Despite the projected increase in stats, Fournier will have quite the load to deal with in the form of Lance Stephenson. Stephenson should take advantage of this match-up on both ends of the floor, and his experience with playing long minutes should give him a stamina edge as well.
ADVANTAGE: Lance Stephenson
Since being traded to Orlando from Milwaukee, Tobias Harris has proven himself an extremely valuable asset to the Magic. He was second for the team in scoring last year, trailing only Arron Afflalo, and he can pull down an impressive number of boards for a small forward. Meanwhile, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still struggles to find his jumpshot, and will provide nowhere near the amount of offensive relief as Harris. While MKG’s defense adds value to his stock, Harris’ rise in Orlando gives him the edge in this battle at small forward.
ADVANTAGE: Tobias Harris
Channing Frye comes to Orlando following a solid season with the resurgent Phoenix Suns. Frye started all 82 games he played for Phoenix last year, and his eight years of experience give him a huge advantage over the young Cody Zeller. Zeller will need to show quite a bit of progress from last year to make this a match-up, especially given Frye’s ability to handle the minutes that come with the starting role.
ADVANTAGE: Channing Frye
Nikola Vucevic has proven himself to be a reliable starting center for the Orlando Magic, averaging double digit points and rebounds, while additionally playing solid defense. He’s going to need every bit of defensive prowess that he can muster, though, pairing up against Al Jefferson. Jefferson’s ability to create in the paint is just too much for the majority of NBA centers, Vucevic included. Big Al may not be the best player on the floor defensively, but he more than makes up for this with his post moves, his cuts, and his natural instinct for scoring.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (Orlando): Aaron Gordon, Maurice Harkless, Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour, Elfrid Payton, Kyle O’Quinn
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, Jeff Taylor, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. Orlando’s bench features a pair of former Charlotte bench players in Ben Gordon and Luke Ridnour, players Charlotte replaced with Gerald Henderson and Brian Roberts, among others. Aaron Gordon should be a stud for Orlando, and may be the best bench player of the entire series, but Charlotte’s depth is just too much for Orlando. The return of Jeff Taylor, along with the additions of Marvin Williams, Noah Vonleh, and PJ Hairston greatly improve Charlotte’s reserves, which I believe are among the best in the Eastern Conference.
Rookies (Orlando): Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Roy Devyn Marble
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Orlando. This has been brought up by plenty of others, but I really view Aaron Gordon as the next exciting, Blake Griffin type player. He should be a human highlight reel for Orlando, and he could very well see himself in a starting role by season’s end. Elfrid Payton will open up the potential of a Payton-Oladipo backcourt in the future, which would be among the entertaining young guard duos in the entire NBA. It’s unclear what roles Vonleh and Hairston will play for Charlotte this year, especially given that the Hornets signed players in the respective positions of each player. Orlando played the 2014 NBA Draft very well, and should be rewarded handsomely for their efforts in the years to come.
FINAL VERDICT: Orlando is still a very young team, whose potential in the next five years could be quite high. Right now, though, like many teams in the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they still have to gain experience to thrust themselves into the playoff hunt. Losing Arron Afflalo hurts, but the Magic bounced back with an incredible draft, adding to their crop of young talent. The Hornets are the superior team, at least for now. They have the right blend of youth and experience to make a playoff run, and match-up wise, they shouldn’t have too much trouble with Orlando.
PREDICTION: Charlotte wins the series, 3-1.
*Yes, I’m going back to Cody Zeller as my starting power forward, for now. Again, once more is revealed about the Hornets’ potential 2014-2015 line-ups, we will adjust accordingly.
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