The Breakdown: AJ and Nate make predictions for the NBA season

AJ’s Take:

Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Although you might not be able to pronounce his name, the Greek Freak has steadily improved with each year that he has played in the NBA. In a league where statistics reign supreme, Antetokounmpo has done his fair share for the Milwaukee Bucks. He led the Bucks in all five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals) last season while also becoming the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in the league in each of those five categories. Antetokounmpo held an impressive stat line last season with 22.9 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game, 5.4 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game, and 1.9 blocks per game.

What makes this man even more of a Freak is the fact that when playoff time hits, those stats improve. Antetokounmpo takes his game to another level by almost averaging a double-double (24.8 PPG and 9.5 APG) while sustaining his defensive prowess (2.2 SPG and 1.7 BPG). Let’s be honest, who hasn’t seen the Greek Freak’s insane blocks go viral on Twitter?

Even if Antetokounmpo isn’t able to carry the Bucks passed the second round of the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised if he walks away with the MVP trophy at the end of the season.

Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons

Coming out of LSU with the first overall pick in 2016, Ben Simmons drew comparisons to Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James–”The King” himself. Simmons was a 6’10” point-forward in college, meaning that although he used his freakish size as an elite forward he also was an elite passer and distributor of the ball on offense. The dude averaged a double-double to go along with his average of five assists per game in college. I’m sure the Sixers are going to utilize his unique skill set as a point-forward often as the season progresses. When you have a player like Ben Simmons on your roster, you use him.

Unfortunately, Simmons broke his foot before the start of what was supposed to be his initial rookie season last year. This delayed his debut to the 2017-18 season. With other young talent around him like Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz, along with three-point sharp-shooter J.J. Redick, look to see the second-coming of LeBron James make a substantial case for Rookie of the Year.

Western Conference: Golden State Warriors

Let’s not kid ourselves here. No matter the massive migration of talent going into the Western Conference, the Warriors are still far and beyond the best team in the conference. The sheer firepower that Golden State has on their roster with guys like Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green is too much for almost any team to handle. The only other teams that could even possibly contend for the conference championship are the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets. Short and sweet, Golden State goes to their fourth straight NBA Finals.

Eastern Conference: Boston Celtics

Hear me out now. Again, with the massive migration of talent to the Western Conference, the Eastern Conference has been left almost barren of elite talent–except for in Boston and Cleveland. Despite the fact that Boston lost Gordon Hayward for the majority of the season, if not the entire regular season, the Celtics only lost by three to the reigning Eastern Conference Champions in the Cleveland Cavaliers with a Kyrie Irving three-pointer falling short as time expired to tie the game. Without Gordon Hayward.

The Celtics have the best young line-up in the NBA with the likes of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Jaylen Brown led the team last night with 25 points while the rookie Jayson Tatum recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. This is the first time a Celtics rookie has recorded a double-double in his debut since–wait for it–Larry Bird.

Not to mention Boston has Kyrie Irving and one of the best sixth men in the NBA with Marcus Smart.

The Celtics win the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs in seven games.

NBA Champion: Boston Celtics

No matter how big and mighty the Golden State Warriors seem to be, I have true faith that the Celtics can match-up well against them. Both teams like to play small ball (usually playing with two guards and two forwards who can shoot well), yet Boston plays significantly better defense. Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum would play significant roles in this series, as they are probably the best defenders on the team.

Boston has the advantage in the paint with Al Horford. Golden State’s perimeter offense is most likely going to be the best in the league this year, but their interior offense and defense will not be nearly as effective. The only match-up they have in the paint is Draymond Green, who would be going up against superior athletes in Tatum and Brown.

I have full confidence that the Celtics match-up well against the Warriors, even without Gordon Hayward. The boys in green are fighters and fighting your way through a game will do a lot.

Nate’s Take:

Most Valuable Player: Kawhi Leonard

The new face for the Spurs is a lot like his predecessor in Tim Duncan; so boring in his game style that it’s fun to watch because of how good he is at. Kawhi isn’t here to put on a show; he’s here to win. Leonard might be the best fit for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich out of every player he’s ever coached, as he plays an old school, fundamentally perfect way. And he dominates with it.

The two time NBA Defensive Player will lock up the MVP award the same way he locks up his opponents; with ease. With his dominant defensive play, he will also become the first player since 1994 to win both the MVP award and the Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season. Expect him to increase his averages in points per game, rising up from his 25.5 last year, and rebounds, increasing from his 5.8 last year, as he will take on his biggest leadership role that he’s had yet.

Kawhi Leonard came third in MVP voting last year, behind winner Russell Westbrook and runner-up James Harden. Both of those players have added tools which will make it harder for them to keep up their individual dominance. Kawhi’s’ workload will only grow.

And with his 9.8 inch long hands, the man nicknamed “The Claw” will grab the award.

Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons

After missing the entire 2016-17 season with an ankle injury, Ben Simmons has used his time off to learn the 76ers offensive system and to refine his skillset. This year, Ben Simmons will hardly shadow a rookie and will put up veteran like numbers. Labeled the “poor man’s LeBron James” coming out of LSU, the 6’10 Simmons has the ability to make plays like a point guard and rebound like a center.

Head coach Brett Brown had even originally planned to start him as a point guard, but now plans to put him at power forward.  

With that vast versatility, expect Simmons to hover around 20 points a game, while also grabbing seven to eight rebounds while starting at the power forward spot. Also expect Simmons to dish at least five assists a game. With his skilled all around play, Simmons will be able to fend off the hype in Lonzo Ball and the underrated athleticism in Dennis Smith Jr. to take the award.

Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers

There are a few harsh realities about the competitive imbalance of the NBA right now. The Eastern Conference being miles behind the Western Conference in skill is one of those. For the past seven years, the the pattern of getting into the finals from the Eastern Conference has been simple; play with LeBron James. Starting with the Miami Heat in 2010 alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and still going coming into the 2017 NBA Season, LeBron is looking to extend his seven straight consecutive NBA Finals Appearance streak. With no other Eastern Conference team gaining enough talent to push them past Cleveland, LeBron will lead the Cavaliers to another Finals appearance.

Although the Cavaliers have had a major roster shakeup after the Kyrie Irving trade, the talent they received in return will be more than enough to keep them at championship level. The Cavaliers will only slightly downgrade at point guard, after acquiring the offensively gifted All-Star Isaiah Thomas from Boston in the Irving trade. In that trade they also bulked up their wing and post play, with the acquisition of the underrated and gritty Jae Crowder. Not to mention, they have also added future Hall-of-Famer and LeBron James’ good friend, Dwyane Wade.

With all the added assets, the Cavs won’t lose a step. They will vastly outmatch their former point guards new team, the Celtics, in four games to retain their status as Eastern Conference champions.

Western Conference Champions: Golden State Warriors

Another harsh reality about the competitive imbalance of the NBA is the super team. In the past seven years, multiple teams have formed together as super teams to attempt to take over the NBA, and to chase a ring. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh did it with success, going to four straight finals and coming away with two rings. Now, LeBron’s championship competition stole the mold he helped make, and perfected it.

The Golden State Warriors have quite possibly the most skilled team that has ever played in the NBA. With two former MVP’s, a Defensive Player of the Year, and three more All-Stars to top that off, the Golden State Warriors ran through last year’s playoffs and finished the postseason at 16-1 and an NBA title.

This offseason, some of the Warrior’s foes in the West bulked up to try to give them a run for their money. The Oklahoma City Thunder could challenge them, with their three star talent led by reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. The San Antonio Spurs could maybe present a threat as well behind the coaching prowess of Gregg Popovich and the talent of (future) MVP Kawhi Leonard. Or how about the Rockets, who added the best playmaker in the NBA in Chris Paul to go alongside James Harden?

Although it’s fun to speculate, or even wish that these teams can unseat the Warriors atop the Western Conference, realistically no team will.

The Warriors will prevail in seven games over the Oklahoma City Thunder to return to their fourth straight championship.

NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors

Part IV. The two power houses keep coming back to our screens like the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, providing us with sequel after sequel that we never asked for. The plot keeps getting weaker too.

This time the storyline is the weakest of the tetralogy. The Warriors play the villain role, led by the success chasing main antagonist Kevin Durant, who now has his first ring. LeBron James is the protagonist of this episode of the saga, as the guy who a lot of people are rooting for to uphend Durant, and put a halt to the Warriors dynasty. The good guys even brought some new friends to the fight this time, hoping that the new stars can help good prevail and save this Cavaliers dynasty. Spoiler alert: they don’t.

The Cavaliers lost handily in the Finals last year, and exchanging a star for some other big pieces isn’t going to magically change the same old plot.

With three scoring stars for the Warriors, the Cavaliers will still not know where to look for stops. Assuming you practically cancel out LeBron with Durant, then what? Curry gets locked up by the defensively dreadful Isaiah Thomas? Klay Thompson gets clamped down by a player who has athletically deteriorated in Dwyane Wade?

Quite simply, that won’t happen. The Cavaliers might be able to win one more game than last year, but ultimately the plot will remain a lot like the last movie.

The Warriors will repeat as champions in six games.