The Breakdown: Nathan’s 2018-2019 NBA predictions

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Nathan Hawkins, Managing Editor

Read Billy’s side here

Most Valuable Player – James Harden

A lot of things will be different this NBA season. The MVP will not be.

James Harden had his most successful season yet last year, leaving little doubt in anyone’s mind who the MVP would be. The addition of Chris Paul gave Harden more room to be in his best form — a slashing shooting guard who can score at will.

This offseason, they added veteran and former scoring champ himself, Carmelo Anthony. Instead of trying to be the main guy, Anthony will accept that his role is no longer to be the go-to man, instead shifting to becoming a go-to for shooting. This will only open up Harden’s opportunities. Harden’s point production may fall a few below his league leading last year, but he will lead his team to the number one seed in the West, lead the league in assists, and claim his second MVP trophy.

Rookie of the Year – Trae Young

If you turned on ESPN during college basketball season last year, you know about Trae Young, the future “Stephen Curry” with his quick release and three point shooting ability. Or depending on who you ask, a future bust. Regardless of which take you believe is more accurate, Trae Young has something no other rookie has: the green light. Expect bombs away for Trae Young, which will lead to significant production. After averaging an exceptional stat line of 27.4 pointers per game and 8.7 assists per game in college, there’s plenty reason for optimism.

Even if Trae Young has very off games, which he will, his overall opportunity for production is much higher than any other rookie. Young will make the most of it, and end up with the Rookie of the Year award.

Western Conference Finals – Rockets over Warriors

Usually I give the smart, safe pick. I’ve picked the Warriors over the Cavaliers in the Finals the past three years, aka the two pretty much consensus picks. This year the West is actually different than it has been the past few years, with LeBron in L.A., Carmelo in Houston, and All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to complete the starting five for the Warriors. The league is very West heavy, with a majority of the leagues star’s in that conference.

In fact, you could say some of the lower to mid contending teams in the West could be very likely contenders in the East, such as the Portland Trailblazers or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead, the contenders in the West are narrowed down to a few: the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors, and to me, the Utah Jazz. The Lakers are contenders because of a certain four-time MVP and 14-time All Star named LeBron James. Ultimately, the Lakers will fall in the second round. The Utah Jazz aren’t on most people’s radar for contention, but they are one of the most complete teams in the league. Behind the spark of sophomore Donovan Mitchell and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, expect them to get the third seed in the Western Conference, but ultimately fall in the second round. That leaves the two best teams in the West (and the league), the Warriors and Rockets.

With the Warriors adding Cousins to their line-up it should be a no brainer right? The Warriors will return to the Finals for the fifth straight time, right?

Wrong. Cousins has had some behavioral issues his whole career, and throwing him into a situation where he will not fit into the bombs away, pick and pop scheme of the Warriors will simply not work. He will start, and the Warriors will struggle to play the ball they’re used to.

Last season, the Rockets had the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, up three games to two, before Chris Paul got injured. This year, a healthy Houston Rockets team gets it done, and goes to their first finals in over 20 years.

Eastern Conference Finals – Celtics over 76ers

In all honesty, the Eastern Conference will probably be more fun than the Western Conference. With a large amount of the superstar players in the West, the East will be more competitive and all sorts of undiscovered talent will rise up. The East has up to seven teams that could contend to be Eastern Conference champions, meaning almost ALL of their playoff teams. More realistically, they have four strong contenders: the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Boston Celtics. The Milwaukee Bucks should make it to the second round, as they are well rounded and have a young, charismatic star leading the way in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Eastern Conference Finals is a stretch for them because of the more talented teams in the way. It’s also a stretch for another talented team in the Raptors, who sacrificed their best player in DeMar Derozan for a risky star in Kawhi Leonard. Although it is an upgrade, neither of those teams will be able to beat either the Celtics or the 76ers.

Those two teams will be a blast to watch, and they will be in a tightly contested battle for the Eastern Conference throne. They are both young, fun, and talented. Ultimately, the Celtics high powered offense led by Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, and the now healthy Gordon Hayward will be enough for the Celtics to claim the East.

Finals – Rockets over Celtics

Having two new teams in the Finals is a refreshment that the NBA needs. Seeing the same NBA Finals four years in a row is frankly boring.

These two teams will be a lot of fun. Two of the league’s premier point guards going at it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Boston’s Kyrie Irving, while MVP James Harden squares up with the rising star Jayson Tatum.

A lot of things will play into this Finals, but both teams will have full chemistry and be playing as the best versions of themselves.

The truth is, the Celtics simply don’t have as much talent as the Rockets. Neither Irving nor Tatum have the defensive capability to guard Paul and Harden, and overall their defense will end up being the achilles heel for the Celtics.

For the first time in five years, we will have a new champion, and for the first time in over 20 years, the Rockets will raise a banner.