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 Sacramento Kings.
2013-14 Series: Charlotte swept the series, 2-0.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
Darren Collison will be playing in his first year in a Kings uniform, coming to Sacramento from the Los Angeles Clippers in the off-season. Collison made a serviceable back-up for Chris Paul in LA, and he should see his minutes increase in a starting role in Sacramento. While Collison will be solid for the Kings, he isn’t quite a star for them, which Kemba Walker is for Charlotte. Walker is accustomed to the starting role for the Hornets, and has thrived as one of the centerpieces of their offense. Kemba also had a fantastic series against the Kings last year, scoring 24 and 30 in his two respective games against Sacramento. Look for Walker to take the edge in this battle at the one.
ADVANTAGE: Kemba Walker
Ben McLemore struggled against Charlotte in his two starts versus the Hornets last year, and it won’t get any easier for him with the addition of Lance Stephenson into the mix. McLemore was one of the more highly touted prospects in the 2013 NBA Draft, and he didn’t quite live up to the billing. Despite his disappointing rookie campaign. I firmly believe he will improve in his sophomore season, and ultimately become the secure starting shooting guard for Sacramento. In this match-up, however, Lance Stephenson should take the advantage, while McLemore continues to find his footing in the NBA.
ADVANTAGE: Lance Stephenson
Rudy Gay came to the Kings in a midseason deal that shipped him from Toronto to Sacramento. Gay has always shown potential to be a bona fide superstar in the NBA, yet for reasons unknown, he still hasn’t quite made his breakout. This isn’t to say Rudy Gay can’t put up monster numbers; one look at his statistics from last year shows he’s one of the best players on the court in this series. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will have a tough match-up against Gay. Gay can be at times inconsistent, meaning there is potential for Kidd-Gilchrist to catch him on an off night and shut him down, defensively. In that same breath, Gay could easily score 20-30, while MKG struggles to find his jumper. I see the latter to be more likely than the former, and the edge goes to Rudy Gay.
ADVANTAGE: Rudy Gay.
This match-up contains both the Hornets’ and the Kings’ potential weak links, as both Zeller and Thompson look to bounce back from underwhelming 2014 seasons. Thompson had his 3rd highest scoring game against Charlotte last year, putting up 15 points and pulling down 14 rebounds in a match-up against the then-Bobcats. Zeller, meanwhile never touched double-digit scoring for Charlotte off the bench against Sacramento. Just based on statistics alone, the advantage goes to Jason Thompson.
ADVANTAGE: Jason Thompson
Can you say marquee match-up? All eyes in the NBA should be on these two when the Hornets and Kings do battle. These are two of the best scoring centers in the NBA, and the match-up between “Big Al” and “Boogie” Cousins is possibly my favorite one for the Hornets this season. Throughout the series, I’ve pointed out that there are few centers in the NBA who can match, or even one up, Al Jefferson down low. In 2013-2014, DeMarcus Cousins did just that, outscoring Jefferson by a margin of 56-37, and outrebounding Jefferson by a tally of 28 to 18. I don’t believe the match-up will be this lopsided again in the upcoming season, but I do believe that DeMarcus Cousins just might have the slight edge on Al Jefferson. For the first time this season, I’m picking against Big Al.
ADVANTAGE: DeMarcus Cousins
Key Reserves (Sacramento): Nik Stauskas, Jason Terry, Travis Outlaw, Carl Landry, Reggie Evans, Quincy Acy.
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, Jeff Taylor, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. I really like the Sacramento Kings’ bench, but I just like the Hornets’ better. Nik Stauskas should become excellent relief for Ben McLemore, and even challenge him for a starting spot deep into the season. Jason Terry will provide veteran experience to an otherwise young core, and the rest of Sacramento’s bench is filled with players I fondly remember from their college days. That’s not an insult; this just means that when those players perform at their peak level, they are downright dangerous. Charlotte, however, did so much to improve their bench from last season, even by addition of new starters. Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, and PJ Hairston are all new faces on the pine; Jeff Taylor and Bismack Biyombo are former starters for this same team just two years ago. In this case, Charlotte has both the quality and quantity advantage of reserves over the Kings.
Rookies (Sacramento): Nik Stauskas
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. In the weeks leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft, many believe that Nik Stauskas would land in the Queen City, wearing a Hornets uniform. In fact, he was still an option for the Hornets, until Sacramento took him in the very next pick in front of Charlotte. This may have been doing the Hornets a favor, especially in hindsight; This allowed Noah Vonleh to complete his drop to the 9th pick, and Charlotte ultimately found their shooting guards in the form of Lance Stephenson and PJ Hairston. Had Charlotte taken Stauskas, they would still be searching for power forward depth, all for a role that would have been filled in July by “Born Ready.” Meanwhile, the Kings did get a scorch-the-net three point shooter, who also happens to have crazy bounce. Nik Stauskas will be fun to watch for the Kings, and may be the best rookie of this trio, but the Hornets filled more needs in the draft, and the talent gap isn’t a complete drop-off.
FINAL VERDICT: The Sacramento Kings are the first team I’ve given a 3-2 edge in starting match-ups over the Charlotte Hornets. They have fantastic talent at small forward and center, and loads of potential at shooting guard. That being said, there are a lot of question marks surrounding their point guard and power forward roles, respectively. Here’s where Charlotte has the sight advantage over Sacramento: While the Hornets may not have the best starting players in each position, their depth allows them to plug in the superior match-ups at critical times. Cody Zeller isn’t the best power forward in the NBA; however, Marvin Williams and Noah Vonleh will be able to give him great relief, and can contend for a starting role. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will likely never be the NBA’s leading scorer; however, Jeff Taylor can come in when the offense needs a boost, or the Hornets can go small with a shooting guard in his place. Sacramento doesn’t quite have this kind of depth to cover their weaknesses. While DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay will likely carry the team, the lack of support hurts them, whereas the support around Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker are what make Charlotte an Eastern Conference contender in 2014-2015. For this reason, I still give the Hornets the edge in the series, and they will consecutively sweep the Sacramento Kings.
PREDICTION: Charlotte sweeps the series, 2-0.
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