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 Minnesota Timberwolves.
Disclaimer: This Minnesota starting line-up may be completely inaccurate: This is completely based on the depth chart provided by ESPN.com.
2013-14 Series: Charlotte and Minnesota split the series, 1-1
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
Ricky Rubio is a true point guard, one of the premier ballhandlers and passers in the NBA today. He plays feisty defense, finds open shooters, and is incredibly fun to watch when he is “on.” There is still plenty of work to do with his shooting (he shot a rather abysmal 38% from the field last year), but he makes up for that with the rest of his offensive game. Kemba Walker is a far better scorer, although he is less of a traditional point guard and more of a driver. Kemba can still distribute and rack up assists, however, while nearly doubling Rubio’s scoring output. Given that, the slight edge goes to the Hornets.
ADVANTAGE: Kemba Walker
This is a clash of styles at shooting guard, featuring a utility player against a pure shooter. We all know about Lance Stephenson by now; not the greatest scorer, but an excellent defender, rebounder, and solid distributer who can anchor transition offenses and defenses. Kevin Martin, however, is a different story. The Western Carolina alum is a pure scorer, and leads Minnesota’s returning crew of point getters. This match-up simply depends on how much one values scoring over all-around play. I think Lance will make a larger contribution to the Hornets, just because he presents so many different types of production, and Charlotte gets the edge in this match-up as well.
ADVANTAGE: Lance Stephenson
This is a match-up I can’t 100% guarantee we see this year, as I personally think Andrew Wiggins will get the nod as starting small forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves. That being said, if this is the match-up we get, let’s just say it likely won’t be the focal point of the series. Corey Brewer is a serviceable NBA veteran, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still struggles to find his offensive footing. Brewer scores at a slightly higher clip, but MKG doubles him up on the boards, and I personally feel his ceiling is much higher than that of Brewer. Advantage Hornets.
ADVANTAGE: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Thaddeus Young is one of the newest Minnesota Timberwolves, coming to the team in the Kevin Love megadeal. Young will be a solid replacement for Love, especially given the crop of young talent the T-Wolves also acquired in the deal. Young is an excellent scorer who can grab a decent amount of rebounds. He is a proven starting PF in the NBA, whereas in Charlotte, Cody Zeller has quite a bit of proving to do. Zeller’s sophomore campaign will be a major test, and his performance will determine whether he has a starting role with the team going forward, or if someone like Noah Vonleh or Marvin Williams will take the job from him. As of right now, Young is the better player.
ADVANTAGE: Thaddeus Young
Nikola Pekovic was excellent for the Timberwolves at center last year, putting up solid scoring and rebound numbers. He should look to continue that play as the Timberwolves attempt to find their new identity without Kevin Love. As good as Pekovic was, however, Al Jefferson was great. Jefferson virtually carried the Bobcats, offensively, last year, and will look to do the same for the Hornets in their first campaign under the new name. Placing this judgement based on statistical production alone, the Hornets have the advantage.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (Minnesota): Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, JJ Barrea, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Mo Williams
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, Jeff Taylor, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Minnesota. Wow, that’s a lot of young talent, along with some veteran experience in Williams and Barrea, on the Timberwolves’ bench. Andrew Wiggins could very well be the next breakout NBA star, especially if he starts to live up to the “Maple Jordan” hype given to him out of high school. Zach LaVine is an excellent athlete with a scoring touch. Anthony Bennett was the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, which was admittedly a reach, but still, he has time to eventually bloom. Charlotte has a lot of positive on their bench, including Gerald Henderson and Marvin Williams’ experience, as well as the youth of Jeff Taylor, PJ Hairston, and Noah Vonleh, but the talent Minnesota possesses in their reserves could be lethal.
Rookies (Minnesota): Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Glenn Robinson III
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Minnesota. See the above for further explanation. Andrew Wiggins went #1 overall to Cleveland, Zach LaVine is an excellent guard for the Timberwolves going forward, and Glenn Robinson III could provide to be a key pick if the T-Wolves see any injuries occur during the season. The Hornets picked up Vonleh and Hairston, both of whom should make an impact this year, but neither are potential All-Stars yet, whereas I can easily see Wiggins as an All-Star in the next two years.
FINAL VERDICT: Minnesota improved themselves greatly through the Kevin Love deal, at least in my opinion. Yes, Love is an elite NBA talent, but the pieces they got in return gave the team depth, youth, and raw talent to work with. Young, Bennett, and Wiggins were a phenomenal haul for the Timberwolves, and it will help them win games not just this season, but going forward as well. That being said, the Hornets’ starting line-up really outmatches that of Minnesota. If the Charlotte bench can hold down the fort, I think the Hornets really have the edge in this series, and should take both games this year.
PREDICTION: Charlotte sweeps Minnesota, 2-0.