This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.
Welcome to the Finals edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable.
Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.
This week, we make our predictions and break down the top storylines heading into the 2019 NBA Finals.
Finals Series Prediction:
Nick Whalen: Warriors in six
Adam King: Raptors in six
Ken Crites: Warriors in six
Mike Barner: Warriors in six
Alex Barutha: Warriors in six
Alex Rikleen: Warriors in six
What will be the single biggest factor that determines the series winner?
Whalen: Whether Toronto can continue to maintain its defensive principles. While Milwaukee's lack of creativity on offense certainly contributed, the Raptors' halfcourt defense is what ultimately won them the Eastern Conference Finals. It'll be a much tougher task shutting down a Warriors team that doesn't rely on a bulldozing star and a point guard who's afraid to shoot, but if any team in the league has the personnel to combat Golden State's attack, it's the Raptors.
King: Aside from if and how much Kevin Durant plays in the series, the contribution of Kyle Lowry is crucial for the Raptors. He was excellent during the Conference Finals but will need to shut down the best shooter of all time in Steph Curry. Lowry was also able to produce on the offensive end, something that eluded him for much of the regular season. His efforts on both ends of the floor are going to need to be almost flawless, as well as consistent, across the entire span of games.
Crites: Health. The Raptors will need one more Golden State injury, plus KD and Cousins to stay out, for a chance to win. Otherwise, the Warriors will just outscore them.
Barner: Can the Raptors' supporting cast around Kawhi Leonard contribute enough to help him keep up the Warriors' prolific offense? The Warriors are a more talented team than the Bucks, so Leonard isn't going to be able to defeat them alone. Specifically, the Raptors will need to get significant contributions from their bench.
Rikleen: The non-Kawhi Raptors. If Leonard is all but alone, forced to win two or three games without any real help from their slew of borderline stars (as was the case in Rounds 1 and 2), then the Warriors are simply too much to overcome. If Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry reprise their roles as recent All-Stars and Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet return as two of the better bench options in the league, then Leonard can power them to a series win (as was the case in Round 3). Even without Durant, the Warriors have too much talent for Leonard to do this without significant help. Comparing the Warriors starting lineup to that of the Bucks, Golden State lacks the pure physical dominance of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the team's overall talent level is higher, and both units are equally well built to compliment its player's strengths. Leonard is probably the best player in this series, but he needs his teammates to get him into a position where he can drag them across the finish line.
How much does Kevin Durant missing at least Game 1 impact your prediction and/or Toronto's chances to win the series? Hypothetically, if Durant doesn't play in the series, would you still view Golden State as the favorite?
Whalen: It's debatable, especially given the home court situation, but even without Durant, I think Golden State is the deserved favorite. More than anything else, that speaks to the talent the Warriors have stockpiled. No other team in the league – or in Finals history, for that matter – could lose a player of Durant's caliber and still be favored in a Finals series. If I could guarantee Durant returns healthy for Game 2 or 3, then I'd probably switch to Warriors in 5. I'm not concerned about the potential chemistry issues. As we've seen the last two years, when healthy it's simply not feasible for the team with two of the top-five players of the decade, one of the best defensive players ever, and the best spot-up shooter ever to lose in a best-of-seven.
King: It certainly impacts the series, almost to the point of moving the needle one way or the other. It appears as though he is in serious doubt for both Games 1 and 2 with anything beyond that far from certain. His absence allows the Raptors to focus their defense more on the Warriors' perimeter game, while also affording Kawhi Leonard with additional mismatches on offense. The Trail Blazers were banged up during the Conference Finals and the Warriors were able to stay close enough to make significant runs in three of the four games. It is unlikely the Raptors would make those same mistakes, so Durant's absence will certainly be magnified.
Crites: Yes. I can't see Lowry, Green and VanVleet slowing down the Splash Brothers. The injuries to Durant and Cousins (who is questionable for Game 1) are why I think the series goes six games and not shorter.
Barner: I think the Raptors put up a pretty good fight regardless if Durant plays or not, that's why I'm predicting the Warriors to win in six. If Durant sits out the entire series, I think the Raptors could push it to seven games, but I'd still take the Warriors to win.
Barutha: If Durant misses the whole series, I'd shift my prediction to Warriors in 7. But it also wouldn't shock me if the Raptors pulled it off in 7. Kawhi would clearly be the best player in the series in that scenario.
Rikleen: If Durant were playing the whole series, I'd have the Warriors in 5. They just have too much talent to overcome. It's been a fun ride, and I hope he doesn't play because this team is more fun to watch without him. But my assumption is that he doesn't play the first two or three games anyway.
Who will win Finals MVP?
Whalen: It feels like the stars are aligning for Stephen Curry to finally get his Finals MVP. Even if Durant returns for, say, Game 3 and rolls off three excellent performances in a five-game win, it'd be tough to hand him the MVP after missing 40 percent of the series. As long as Golden State wins the Finals, the MVP will be Curry's to lose.
King: Kawhi Leonard, purely because of his impact on both ends of the court and ability to elevate his game when needed, as evidenced by his career-high assists and rebounds in Games 5 and 6 of the Conference Finals.
Crites: Stephen Curry
Barner: Stephen Curry. He's going to be a scoring machine for however long Durant is out and even if Durant returns, I don't think he plays enough games to work himself into consideration.
Barutha: Steph Curry. I doubt Durant will win it if he only plays 1-3 games, unless he averages like 35 points per game. And when he's been out, Curry has seen a huge usage bump and has been incredible
Rikleen: Steph Curry. He's the reason that the Warriors are as good as they are, and I expect the Warriors to win.
Looking back at the Eastern Conference Finals, what was most surprising about the Bucks' collapse in Games 3-6?
Whalen: Mike Budenholzer's inability to react in real time. The Bucks made a few tweaks throughout the series, but they were mostly lineup-related, and It felt like they were always a game behind in terms of strategic adjustments. Budenholzer's reluctance to shorten his leash on players like Eric Bledsoe and Nikola Mirotic – and extend his leash on Giannis – ultimately doomed Milwaukee. The Bucks also failed to crack Toronto's halfcourt defense in Games 3-6, with each game feeling like a replay of the previous one. It's understandable for a coach to live and die by what got his team within two games of a Finals berth, but by the end of Game 6, the Bucks' offense had a distinct Houston Rockets vibe to it: beautiful when everything is working, hard to watch when it's not.
King: The way the Raptors were able to dictate the flow of the games, in large part due to their ability to limit the Bucks role players. Giannis Antetokounmpo put up solid numbers despite the series loss, but it was those around him – Eric Bledsoe, Nikola Mirotic, and Khris Middleton – who all failed to be consistently impactful.
Crites: Eric Bledsoe's poor play on the offensive end was ugly in Games 3, 4 and 6. His defensive is always solid, but that offensive choke job makes you wonder if he can handle playoff pressure moving forward.
Barner: That they couldn't hold on to big leads. They have a lot of talented offensive players, so they should have been able to find a way to hold on.
Barutha: How many guys became unplayable. The Bucks' deep bench was one of Milwaukee's strong points and, for example, Nikola Mirotic ended up glued to the bench when it really mattered.
Rikleen: The simple fact that it happened at all. For a team to go an entire season without losing three in a row to then go and lose four straight was completely shocking. I predicted that the Raptors' chances improved the longer the series went, so while the Raptors' win was unexpected, it wasn't shocking. They're a great team led by one of the best players of the century. But for the Bucks to lose four straight – and to blow a big lead late in Game 6 – I'm still in shock.
Which is the more impressive run: Golden State going to five straight Finals as a franchise with (mostly) the same core, or LeBron going to eight straight Finals as an individual?
Whalen: It's clearly LeBron for me. I understand if you want to knock him for doing it in the East or stacking the deck in his favor at the start of the Miami run, but it's an accomplishment I don't think we'll see again for a long, long time. Every single one of those teams lived and died by LeBron's play, and even in the Heat's heyday, he was rarely afforded the luxury of having an off game, let alone an off series. If LeBron didn't play MVP-level basketball night in and night out, his teams simply weren't going to win at the highest levels. To be sure, the Warriors' run is as impressive as any since the 90's Bulls, but I view it as more of a triumph of team-building and talent accumulation. The addition of Durant – which would've been like handing Kawhi Leonard to the 2016 Cavs or David Robinson to the 1996 Bulls – will always be the asterisk that, fair or not, complicates the legacy of what Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala started.
King: Both are impressive but I would have to give the edge to LeBron, if not only for what he achieved during his final season with the Cavaliers. The Warriors have been the measuring stick for the last five season but the addition of Kevin Durant makes it difficult to gauge the overall success of the "core".
Crites: LeBron. None of those four players, even Curry, goes to Miami and carries the Heat like LeBron did. Would Wade defer to Curry like he did for LeBron? I doubt it. Watching LeBron in LA makes it easy to forget how good he used to be on the defensive end. He was a five-time All-Defense first-teamer.
Barner: LeBron. The Warriors have been largely a cohesive unit, but LeBron has dealt with a lot of different supporting players during his runs. The fact he made eight straight is still astonishing to me.
Barutha: LeBron. His teammates and coaches changed relatively often, making chemistry harder to achieve. Plus, his teams were usually a disaster when he was off the court. Simply staying healthy enough to go to eight straight Finals is a ridiculous achievement.
Rikleen: LeBron's streak is more impressive. I don't hold it against any of the Warriors' core players, but it has to be acknowledged that their run was greatly facilitated by once-in-a-generation off-court strokes of luck. Steph Curry's ankle injury hitting at the exact right time to depress his contract, yet have no lasting impact on his career development is a stroke of pure luck.Striking gold on Draymond Green in the second round. Finding a coach and management team willing to embrace the three-point revolution just as it is starting, and having not just two great shooters, but two of the best all-time to build around. They get bonus points for doing it in the Western Conference, but there was just too much random chance for them to get more credit than LeBron, whose streak is almost twice as long. Go back and look at some of those rosters James was carrying to the Finals. The support around the Big Three in 2010-11 was severely lacking. That 2013-14 Heat team was getting old around him. No Kyrie Irving in 2017-18. No Irving or Kevin Love in 2015. What he accomplished was insane.