Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Charlotte Hornets

Mar 7, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots over Charlotte Hornets guard Courtney Lee (1) and guard Kemba Walker (15) during the first half at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots over Charlotte Hornets guard Courtney Lee (1) and guard Kemba Walker (15) during the first half at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

This is the ninth part in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and each of the upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: Charlotte swept the season series last season with Minnesota in 2015-16, winning both match-ups by single digits.

Karl-Anthony Towns was a monster down low between the two games, averaging 23.5 points and 13.5 rebounds against a Hornets team who is typically very good down low.

The Hornets were in the top-tier of the league on both ends of the floor last season, which earned them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Wolves struggled to shoot the ball consistently against Charlotte last year, and will look to improve on that this season against a team that sees a majority of their core returning.

What’s new? Ramon Sessions returns to Charlotte after spending the previous two seasons in Washington. Sessions provides a solid bench option at the point guard spot, where he averaged 10 points and three assists a game last year. He hasn’t put up the numbers to become a year-to-year starter, but he continues to be productive enough to find his way into a contact.

After an awful season with the Los Angeles Lakers last year, Roy Hibbert comes to the Hornets looking to rejuvenate his career, as the former all-star has struggled to return to his old ways. He started all 81 games that he played in, but struggled in just about every facet, averaging only six points, five rebounds, and one assist per game.

Charlotte is not expecting Hibbert to come in and be their starting center; that spot will likely be filled by Cody Zeller. He will have an opportunity, however, to play some valuable minutes off the bench. We’ll see if this new role provides a new start for Hibbert.

Marco Belinelli also comes to Charlotte to fill another bench role. He has the ability to play the two or the three, and has an above-average mid-range jump shot. In my opinion, Belinelli will be the “x-factor” when it comes to the success of the Hornets bench.

With all the new reserves that Charlotte will have this season, the bench match-up will be one of the most important determining factors of how this series plays out for the Wolves. Hopefully, Minnesota’s added experience along with the younger guards like Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn will help to nullify the potential damage the Hornets bench could cause.

Key losses: Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee

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What’s the same? It is likely that every member of the Hornets starting lineup is a returner from last season, led in the back court by Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum.

Walker, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the league. He has the ability to score in bunches, as he showed against the Wolves last year with a 34-point performance in March. He’s also a decent rebounder for his position, along with being a good defender. Ricky Rubio will have to work hard on the defensive end and not allow Walker to take over the game.

Batum is entering his second season in Charlotte. He under-performed immensely last season based on the monster contract he received when he came over from Portland, but he’s not like a lot of other shooting guards that we’re used to seeing. Rather than being a scorer, much of his value comes on the defensive end.

Offensively, he plays with more of a pass-first mindset. Guys like Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Shabazz Muhammad should look to exploit that by forcing him into bad passes. He averaged nearly three turnovers a game last season, so that is something that should be taken advantage of.

Returning in the front court for the Hornets are the likes of Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, and Frank Kaminsky. Zeller and Williams were both starters, while Kaminsky saw a lesser role off the bench in his rookie season. His minutes increased towards the latter half of his rookie campaign, and I expect that trend to continue into this season. Kaminsky is your prototypical stretch 4, and stepping out and defending off the dribble will be a necessity for KAT and the bigs off the bench.

Williams started every game but one last season, and excelled in his first year as a full-time starter, averaging nearly 12 points and seven rebounds per game. He shot over 40 percent from deep last year, making himself more threatening offensively than in years past.

Finally, Cody Zeller returns to the starting lineup to guard the paint along with Spencer Hawes off the bench. The Wolves should have no problem wearing these two out if they can run the floor and control the tempo.

My prediction? Charlotte continues to get better year by year, and they show no signs of slowing down this season.

If this Timberwolves team has progressed like we think it has, then optimistically, they should split this series. The timing of this match-up is my biggest concern; both games come during the first half of the season, and within 18 days nonetheless. I would love to see a late season match-up with some importance — a game with both teams firing on all cylinders and vying for a playoff berth would be an exciting game to watch. Regardless, these two teams will certainly give us a fun duel to watch.

Next: What To Watch For During Timberwolves' Preseason

The Timberwolves see the Hornets for the first time on November 15th at the Target Center.