B/R NBA Roundtable: 5 Experts Predict 2021 Champion, Finals MVPMay 22, 2021
B/R NBA Roundtable: 5 Experts Predict 2021 Champion, Finals MVP
The table is set.
Following the wildly successful, possibly annual play-in tournament, the 2021 NBA Playoffs are underway with eight teams locked into the seeds in each conference.
Bleacher Report asked five NBA experts to break down their championship picks, as well as which star they see earning Finals MVP when it's all said and done.
Hit the comments in the B/R app to give us your picks.
Experience, Star Power Prevail
The 2021 NBA postseason brings as much parity as any in recent memory. There are real arguments for six or seven teams being able to win it all. Of course, that makes it more difficult to predict a champion.
The safe approach is probably going with the team that has the highest ceiling, but objectivity is also tough there, thanks to the extremely limited sample provided by the Brooklyn Nets and their Big Three.
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden played fewer than 200 minutes together this season, so analyzing them without speculation is difficult. But at various times throughout the season, all three displayed MVP-level offense. And perhaps most encouraging, in the rare moments they were all together, all three seemed willing to defer for the benefit of the team.
On top of the offensive upside of this combination, there is loads of Finals experience from Durant and Kyrie. For years, Harden has been about as productive as an NBA player can possibly be while having a few glaring postseason letdowns. Now, he has all-time talents to take over if he gets shaky again.
Throw in timely contributions from role players like Joe Harris (one of the best floor spacers in the game), a rejuvenated Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown (a lineup-inverting power guard) and it's not hard to see this squad going all the way—with its pilot, Harden, taking home Finals MVP honors.
Lakers Push Past Vulnerabilities
The Los Angeles Lakers appear vulnerable, barely getting by the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament to take the seventh seed in the Western Conference. But the Lakers are not a typical low seed, as injuries deprived the team of LeBron James and Anthony Davis for significant periods.
James may be an obvious pick for NBA Finals MVP, but he's always there in the endgame. Provided he and his squad are healthy, the Lakers will only get better the deeper they go into the postseason. The team has a relatively favorable playoff bracket with the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers en route to the Conference Finals. While the path won't be easy, betting against James has been a loser for a long, long time.
The Brooklyn Nets seem to have the most firepower in the East. The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks believe this is their year. The Miami Heat are a dark horse to get back to the Finals. The Lakers would still need to get through teams like the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers in the West. But the Lakers are an elite defensive squad with the offensive juggernaut that is James and Davis.
While Davis will be vital in the Lakers' postseason success, James drives and controls the team on nearly every offensive possession.
Put the Lakers down for the repeat and James for both his fifth title and Finals MVP, directly impacting the GOAT (greatest of all time) debate for years to come.
James Harden, Difference Maker
The Brooklyn Nets have already taken the Los Angeles Lakers' crown as the most hated team in the NBA.
Could the Lakers' NBA title be next?
The chase for the Larry O'Brien trophy is as wide open as we've seen in some time, a race that the Nets will eventually win.
While there are several reasons why Brooklyn will be the last team standing, there's one that stands out from the rest.
Kevin Durant is one of the NBA's greatest scorers ever, so you know he's gonna get his buckets.
Kyrie Irving has shown there's so much more to his game than having a ridiculous handle, evident by him joining the 50/40/90 club this season. But postseason glory for this Big Three begins and ends with Harden who will be named the Finals MVP.
Harden's playmaking, we all knew, was good. But the way he has been able to slice up teams all season and still get a good number of his own shots has been impressive.
And to win a title and be named MVP will certainly serve as push-back to those who didn't believe Harden could make the necessary changes to his game (more playmaking, less shooting) in order to mesh with Irving and Durant after requesting a trade from Houston. Harden will have come and conquered, leaving with that always-elusive NBA title which becomes yet another crown Brooklyn has taken from the Lakers.
Don't Overlook Giannis, Bucks
Between the Sixers getting the No. 1 seed and the hype that's surrounded the Nets, Milwaukee has been somewhat overlooked.
This year's Bucks aren't the regular-season juggernaut they were the last two seasons, but I actually like that—it's better that they struggled and had to figure some things out over these 72 games than if they had blown teams out all season and assumed they'd be able to roll in the playoffs.
Their path is tougher than the other contenders. They'll have to go through both Philly and Brooklyn to get to the Finals, not to mention a rematch with Miami in the first round. But if they can get through the Heat series, that will show that this version of the Bucks—with Jrue Holiday bolstering their perimeter defense and a somehow-still-improving Giannis Antetokounmpo—are a different caliber of playoff group than they were the last two years.
A Devastating Big 3
If LeBron James' ankle was 100 percent, I would be tempted to pick the Los Angeles Lakers here. The Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers all probably have the talent necessary to win a title as well.
That being said, no one can match the Nets in terms of pure firepower.
With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden all finally on the court together, this could be the most devastating Big Three we've ever seen in the postseason, at least offensively. While they only played eight games together during the regular season, these are all veterans, including two former champions in Irving and Durant. They simply don't need the reps other younger stars would need to jell.
The four-man unit of Durant, Irving, Harden and Joe Harris is posting a ridiculous net rating of plus-18.0 in 140 total minutes together, and Brooklyn can mix and match the fifth starter (Blake Griffin, Nic Claxton, Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan, etc) based on matchups.
Getting an underachieving Boston Celtics team without Jaylen Brown in the first round should be a good warm-up, and Brooklyn will get to face a beat-up Bucks or Miami Heat team in the Eastern Semis.
Picking an MVP on this team is no easy task. Irving tied Durant for the team lead in scoring this season (26.9 points per game) and both have hit game-winners in the Finals before. Harden could easily turn out to be the most valuable, however, as his ability to break a defense down before setting up a teammate is simply unfair with this roster around him.
The Nets may have some defensive concerns, but no one is stopping this team, either.