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 Phoenix Suns.
2013-14 Series: Phoenix swept Charlotte, 2-0.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
Goran Dragic carried the offensive load for a resurgent Suns team last year, and he should look to do the same this year. Dragic was a major part of Phoenix’s surprise turnaround, and his scoring output, defensive tenacity, and skilled ballhandling and passing made him a multi-talented threat at point guard. Kemba Walker is similar in his multifaceted stature, having the ability to cross over, shoot, drive, and play aggressive defense, but he still isn’t THE focal point of the Hornets offense like Dragic is to the Suns.
ADVANTAGE: Goran Dragic
One of my go-to notes about Lance Stephenson is how versatile of a player is, specifically how he can potentially go for a triple-double on any given night. While this asset separates him from a lot of shooting guards in the NBA, in this match-up he faces an opponent with that similar skill, and a better ability to score. Bledsoe put up great numbers at the 2 last year, rebounding well, distributing the ball almost as well as his point guard, and scoring nearly 18 points per game. You can’t ask much more out of your shooting guard, and these skills almost wash out the unique style of play that comes with “Born Ready.” While Lance is still an elite transition facilitator and defender, Bledsoe’s offensive output gives him the slight edge in this match-up.
ADVANTAGE: Eric Bledsoe
This is a match-up between two players who don’t stand out when looking at a stat sheet, but still play critical roles for their respective teams on a nightly basis. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the defensive anchor for Charlotte, the Hornets’ go-to guy for guarding a star player or simply shutting down the opponent’s hot-hand for the night. P.J. Tucker is a similar figure for Phoenix, a defensive stud who is more than capable of having an “on” night offensively. Tucker may be considered the heart and soul of the Suns if for nothing more than his love of the team, on top of his intangible grit and underpaid stature. On a match-up like this, I have to go with production, and Tucker’s numbers, however slightly, are better than those of MKG.
ADVANTAGE: P.J. Tucker
This is a hard match-up to predict for two reasons: 1. The uncertainty of the starting power forward role for the Charlotte Hornets and 2. If Cody Zeller is the starter, how will he perform? This is obviously a huge season for him, after an underwhelming rookie campaign. Morris, however, has proven himself as a utility starter, a guy who can come off the bench as the 6th man, and step into s starting role and hold his own. Again, looking at the numbers, Markieff Morris is coming off of a much more productive season than Zeller, over doubling him in point total, and that is the deciding factor between these two.
ADVANTAGE: Markieff Morris
Miles Plumlee is a familiar name to college basketball fans in the state of North Carolina, but as an NBA starter, he has work to do to be considered a valuable starting NBA center. In this case, it is pretty easy to rank Al Jefferson over Plumlee, if for nothing more than his offensive expertise and NBA experience. Plumlee has the potential to develop a better offensive game to match his strong defense at center, but for right now, “Big Al” will have to be the focal point of the Hornets’ offense, and he will be forced to carry the load against a Suns team that matches up well against Charlotte.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (Phoenix): Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, Anthony Tolliver, Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, P.J. Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Phoenix. That is a young, talented bench that the Suns have, including two rookies from the ACC that should make an immediate impact, whether off the bench or starting, for Phoenix. We’ll have more on them, later, however. The Suns were able to steal Anthony Tolliver, a player that turned out to be a pleasant surprise off the bench, from the Hornets, and Isaiah Thomas is a fantastic back-up point guard to have. Alex Len was considered the future of Phoenix basketball last year, and should improve over the course of his sophomore season. This is just a really strong, young bench for the Suns, and they should take the Suns to the postseason if they build on the successes of last year for Phoenix.
Rookies (Phoenix): T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis, Alec Brown
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Phoenix. Charlotte drafted well this year, but Phoenix made the right steps in building their team into a postseason contender in an already stacked Western Conference. T.J. Warren was the ACC Player of the Year this past year, developing into a scoring machine, and carrying an otherwise lackluster N.C. State team to the NCAA Tournament. Tyler Ennis made arguably the highlight of the year in college basketball, hitting a clutch, game winning three point runner at Pittsburgh to keep Syracuse’s then-undefeated season alive. Alec Brown has raw size, a 7’1, 235 lb center from Green Bay. Brown can be developed under the right staff into a serviceable third string center, with potential to contend for more minutes. Noah Vonleh recently underwent successful surgery, which still hurts his stock slightly, and P.J. Hairston will be an excellent third shooting guard for Charlotte, unfortunately for him pushed to the back of the shuffle for the Hornets after the signing of Lance Stephenson. The Suns made three picks which could ultimately tip the team over to the Western Conference Playoffs, and for that, they have the rookie advantage.
FINAL VERDICT: The Phoenix Suns are one of those teams that aren’t Finals contenders, but they simply match up really well with the Charlotte Hornets. They’re strong at guard, good at forward, and decent enough at center to have a distinct advantage over Charlotte in this series. The Hornets will have to heavily rely on Al Jefferson to score big points over Miles Plumlee, and Kemba Walker to match Goran Dragic blow-for-blow, in order for Charlotte to have a chance in this series. By no means are the Phoenix Suns a juggernaut; they simply have Charlotte beat in places it normally soars, especially at shooting and point guard.
PREDICTION: Phoenix sweeps Charlotte, 2-0.