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 Boston Celtics.
2013-14 Series: Boston won the series, 2-0.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
Rajon Rondo missed the majority of last season with a hamstring injury that kept him on the bench. When he was able to play, however, he continued to be the playmaker that the basketball world has known and loved, dishing out almost ten assists per game. While these numbers are fairly normal for him, it may have been even more impressive given that he had not a single one of his “Big Three” teammates (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen) in Celtics uniforms anymore. This match-up may not take place next season, as Rajon Rondo has been rumored to be on the trading block for the past few months, but we will assume the Boston Celtics hang onto Rondo for this preview. Kemba Walker is a superior scorer, and doesn’t have the health issues that have plagued Rondo, but when Rondo is at 100%, he is a threat to put up a triple double on any given night. This is a tough match-up to pick, but I’ll give the ever-so-slight edge to Boston’s best player.
ADVANTAGE: Rajon Rondo
Avery Bradley stepped up a starting guard following the injury to Rajon Rondo and the trade of Jordan Crawford to the Golden State Warriors. Bradley is a solid NBA shooting guard, one who can play effectively when starting or coming off the bench. Lance Stephenson comes to the Charlotte Hornets this season as their latest blockbuster signing, and, much like Rondo, he has triple-double potential on a nightly basis. Stephenson is simply the better guard here, based on statistical and defensive advantages.
ADVANTAGE: Lance Stephenson
Jeff Green emerged as the leading scorer on a depleted Boston Celtics roster last year, and he goes up against arguably the most offensively challenged player in the Hornets starting line-up. What MKG lacks in scoring ability, however, is made up for with terrific defense. This makes this match-up difficult to predict, as it ultimately falls onto how the game plays out when the Celtics have possession. Since Jeff Green can also defend, on top of his scoring, I’ll give him the edge here.
ADVANTAGE: Jeff Green
This is a match-up between two veterans who are approaching a decade in the Association. Bass put up slightly larger numbers last year, but also played a few more minutes per game than Marvin Williams. Really, this is a toss-up. In the one game that Williams and Bass played each other last season, Williams scored 19, pulled down 7 rebounds, and blocked one shot, while Bass scored 8 points, grabbed 8 boards, and rejected 2 field goal attempts. Based on their lone one-on-one match-up, Marvin Williams will get the nod.
ADVANTAGE: Marvin Williams
Tyler Zeller will be making his debut in a Celtics uniform this year, his first NBA season outside of Cleveland. Zeller saw his minutes drastically decrease last year, moving from 26.4 MPG in his rookie season to just 15.0 MPG his sophomore campaign. As a result, his statistical output took a sharp decline. While he should see more playing time in Boston, he will have to take on one of the best centers in the NBA in the form of Al Jefferson. Jefferson shouldn’t have too much trouble in this match-up, and he should rather easily have the edge.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (Boston): Marcus Smart, Gerald Wallace, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey, James Young
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Cody Zeller, Jeff Taylor, Gary Neal, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. Barely. I really like this Boston bench, and they may have the most important reserve in Marcus Smart, especially given the unpredictability of Rondo’s trade/injury situation. Gerald Wallace can still provide solid minutes off the bench, Jared Sullinger is still due for a strong NBA season, and Kelly Olynyk showed flashes of a starting NBA center last year, particularly against the Washington Wizards in the Celtics’ regular season finale, where Olynyk scored 24 points. However, the Hornets hold both quality and quantity. They’re deeper than ever at shooting guard, boasting Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal, and PJ Hairston as back-ups to Lance Stephenson. Bismack Biyombo is a solid defensive center. Brian Roberts will give Kemba Walker solid relief. Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller will battle Marvin Williams for the starting power forward spot, which is still very much up for grabs. Jeff Taylor looks to bounce back from injury to provide some offense at small forward. The Hornets have all bases covered off the bench, and they get the advantage as the “deeper” team in this series.
Rookies (Boston): Marcus Smart, James Young
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Boston. Early in the offseason, a few analysts pegged James Young as the 9th overall pick for the Charlotte Hornets after the draft lottery. Boston got him at 17. While the Hornets also benefited from a player falling, and snagged Noah Vonleh, the Boston Celtics set their backcourt up for years to come. Marcus Smart is as physical of a point guard as I can ever recall seeing out of college, and he will do well as either a back-up or a starter for the Celtics, pending Rondo’s status. PJ Hairston is a good fit for the Hornets, but James Young was one of the elite shooters at the 2 in this draft, and the overall talent of Boston, along with their potential immediate impact, gives them the youth advantage.
FINAL VERDICT: Despite Boston’s struggles last year, they have set themselves up nicely for the future, acquiring two strong guards in the 2014 NBA Draft, and retaining the majority of a young group from last year. Boston likely still has work to do in their post-Big Three rebuild, but they should improve this season. Despite this, I can’t see them beating Charlotte twice this year. Like with many other teams that finished in the bottom tier of the Eastern Conference, Boston is still young, while the Hornets are in full “win-now’ mode. The experience, and even youth, of the Hornets will be too much for this Boston bunch to handle this season.
PREDICTION: Hornets win the series, 2-1.
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